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Denver Police Response Times Worsen, Complaints Rising

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Investigator Brian Maass

DENVER (CBS4) – The Denver Police Department is now getting citizen complaints on nearly a daily basis about disturbingly long response times to calls for help.

“We are seeing more and more comments about this on our social media pretty much every day,” said DPD spokesperson Lt. Matt Murray. “We are hearing that more and more people are not happy with the response times and as we’ve been looking at it, we are not either.”

CBS4 identified several recent cases where callers believed they had an emergency situation, but ended up waiting as long as three hours for a patrol officer to show up.

Lt. Matt Murray

CBS4’s Brian Maass interviews Denver Police Department spokesman Lt. Matt Murray (credit: CBS)

“We do not believe this is okay,” said Murray.

Neither does Barb Sena. On July 15, in her southwest Denver neighborhood, an apparently drunk driver hit a parked car. Sena and other neighbors called Denver’s 911 system, saying that the intoxicated driver and passengers were still in the area and could be caught. Records obtained by CBS4 show that the first 911 call was made at 7:05 p.m., followed by five more calls in the next hour. But a Denver police officer didn’t arrive on the scene until 9:57 p.m., nearly three hours after the first call was made. By then, the driver was long since gone, but neighbors were fuming at the response.

“I said these people are drunk, they are back in the car driving again, and if something happens to someone else, I said that’s on your shift,” Sena told a dispatcher. “It’s disappointing, it’s just really disappointing.”

On South Yates Street, Stephanie Walter shares that disappointment. On Aug. 1, a suspected drunk driver nearly hit a neighborhood child, then ran over a child’s bike before parking.

“I asked all the kids if they were alright,” said Walter, who heard the crash. She said she confronted the driver who was going into a nearby house. “I said are you drunk? Are you out of your mind? You almost just killed a kid.”

Walter called 911 but there was no immediate response. Multiple calls were placed asking for immediate police help. She said it took so long for police to respond, the neighbor staggered out of his house, drove away in another car then returned with a six pack of beer before police arrived, one hour and seven minutes after the first call.

She told arriving officers that “the man left his house and bought more beer and he made it back before you got here.”

Murray says police are as frustrated by these delays as the people calling for help.

“It’s unfortunate they had to wait and we can understand their frustration.”

He says in both cases cited by CBS4, there were other, more critical calls that took precedence and that both cases were “triaged” correctly. Murray said calls have to be prioritized and if they are considered “non-injury accidents,” like these two cases, they get a slower response.

“We work really hard to make sure the officers are handling the highest priority calls first. Response times on every priority of calls is worse than it was before.”

By example, in 2012, for the highest priority calls, it took an average of 13.6 minutes from the time a 911 call was received to the time an officer arrived on scene. In 2013, its taking 14.9 minutes to respond to urgent, emergency calls. The numbers are worse for what are considered non-emergency calls. It currently takes 26.9 minutes, on average, to respond to a call like that, an increase of nearly four minutes from last year.

“We want to do better,” said Murray.

But he said the slowing response times can be traced to a lack of officers.

He said the department has an authorized strength of 1426 officers, but currently has only 1,350 officers. Murray said the department currently has about 200 fewer officers than it had in 2008. A new class of 70 recruits is in training but it will be well into 2014 before those officers are trained, certified and on the streets.

Murray said the department is constantly shifting resources, making tweaks, trying to alleviate the long waits.

“Help is on the horizon,” said the police lieutenant “but it’s really tough to catch up.”

- Written by Brian Maass for CBSDenver.com

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