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Why data from 15 cities shows police response times are taking longer

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Police response times are getting longer. That's according to a new analysis of the average time it takes cops in 15 cities to respond to calls ranging from low priority vandalism to acts of violence. As NPR's Martin Kaste reports, the longer waits come as police departments struggle to keep enough officers on staff.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: There isn't a national program tracking police response times, but some cities gather and publish their own stats. Jeff Asher, a crime analyst who publishes on Substack, compiled the numbers for 15 of those cities.

JEFF ASHER: A lot of the larger agencies - New Orleans, Nashville, Portland, New York City, Seattle - are seeing reasonably sizable increases in the average response time.

KASTE: But those increases vary a lot. In New Orleans, average response times almost tripled, from 51 minutes in 2019 to 146 minutes last year. In New York, the number jumped less, from 18 minutes to 33. Asher says these figures are just a sampling of what's going on nationally. But the trend seems clear.

ASHER: I also found somewhere between five and seven cities that don't publish the data, but they've had media reporting in 2022 talking about how much longer police response times have gotten. So we may not have the actual numbers, but the anecdotes are telling us that these 15 cities are not the only places that this is happening.

KASTE: None of this surprises Chuck Wexler.

CHUCK WEXLER: The national conversation among police is staffing is the No. 1 issue.

KASTE: Wexler runs the Police Executive Research Forum. He says older officers are quitting or retiring at a faster rate. And new recruits are harder to come by. He calls longer response times an early warning sign that the staffing shortages are now starting to have an effect.

WEXLER: If your house is being broken into and you need the police there in 4 minutes and they get there in 7 minutes, it makes a huge difference.

KASTE: Some departments have tried to make up for officer shortages by shifting non-emergency work and some mental health calls to civilians. But some of those cities report hiring and training civilians has also been slow.

Martin Kaste, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SWEATSON KLANK'S "ON OUR WAY HOME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.