SALT LAKE CITY – The Salt Lake City Police Department has received harsh criticism over how slow their response times have been for top priority calls. Officials say they saw big improvements over the last four weeks. However, their response times still aren’t as quick as the top brass wants them to be.
Response times are better
Chief Mike Brown hopes their terrible response times in August were just an anomaly. In August, it took Salt Lake City Police an average of 17:34 to respond to a priority one call, and Brown said that was unacceptable. In September, that average response time dropped to 14:14.
“That’s a 3:20 drop from August of 2021,” Brown said.
This puts their average time essentially to what it was in 2020, but Brown said even that is still unacceptable. The department’s goal is to have an officer at the scene of a priority one call within 10 minutes of being dispatched. So they’re trying to find new methods to speed up their responses.
Longer police response times, fewer officers
Analysts say violent crime has been on the rise in Salt Lake City. Department data shows violent crime increased more than nine percent from 2020, putting it more than 16 percent higher than the past five-year average. Brown said they would receive 254 “calls for service” every day in 2018, but that number rose to 266 in 2019, then 300 in 2020. Currently, Brown says they’re getting 310 calls every single day.
They’ve had to deal with this increase in violent crime with fewer officers patrolling the streets. For now, officials say they have 55 vacant sworn positions. There are five officers on military duty and one officer who announced their retirement. The department hired 19 new officers in January. Brown said it takes quite a while to make those officers street-ready.
“It’s a 22-week academy, and then it’s another 16 weeks in an FTO (field training officer) program. So, it’s about 10 months,” Brown said.
Different ways to respond to calls
Apart from hiring more officers, what else can SLCPD do to shrink their response times?
Brown said there are many times when police are called to a scene when they really shouldn’t be. So they’re looking at a “call diversion” program that could route the calls to other agencies that are better equipped to handle certain situations.
“A lot of times, people will call and, maybe, it’s a mental health issue or a juvenile issue that really shouldn’t be a police response. We’re working with our dispatch to look at other agencies and non-profits that can help us out,” he said.
The department is also considering a new response system. It could automate lower-priority calls where a police officer isn’t necessarily required. Brown said one example would be if you woke up to find your car was stolen, and the suspect is long gone.
Brown said, “There are, now, online processes where you can actually just call in, go online, receive that case number, complete your own report. And we’ll have the information.”
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