San Diego police response times worst they’ve been in more than a decade
Officers are still getting to emergencies like shootings in minutes, but response times to all other types of calls have far surpassed Police Department benchmarks.
San Diego police response times last fiscal year were the longest they’ve been in more than a decade.
A review of police response times recorded in city budget documents over 14 years showed that although officers are still getting to emergencies like shootings in minutes, response times to all other types of calls have far surpassed the Police Department’s benchmarks.
In fiscal 2021-22, it took police, on average, about 38 minutes to respond to Priority 1 calls, a grouping that includes serious crimes such as domestic violence and child abuse. That’s close to triple the department’s target of 14 minutes and three times as long as police response times for Priority 1 calls in 2009.
Officers took more than two hours last fiscal year to respond to Priority 2 calls, which include less-serious crimes such as trespassing and prostitution. The department’s goal is 27 minutes, according to city budget documents.
Police also took longer to respond to Priority 3 and 4 calls — categories that include reports of loud parties, injured animals, parking violations and other incidents.
The record-high figures come as the department grapples with the most significant officer shortage since 2009. More than 230 San Diego police officers left the department in fiscal 2021-22 — a 52 percent increase from the year before.
The Town Council also seats a new executive committee, including new President Jerri Hunt.
Police leaders say the agency’s staffing struggles are an undeniable factor, but there are other reasons response times have steadily increased.
In the past several years, officers have been required to track an increasing amount of data after interacting with the public. This includes mandates set by state laws like the Racial and Identity Profiling Act, which requires police agencies across California to log information about people they stop, including perceived gender, perceived race and the reason the person was stopped. Officers also are required to report use-of-force instances more thoroughly and log body-worn camera footage.
The requirements were put in place to boost accountability and transparency, and while many police leaders are supportive of the changes, they can be time-consuming, officials say.
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Inexperience also plays a role. More than a third of San Diego officers have been with the department for five years or less, police leaders said, and newer officers take longer to handle calls — especially if those calls are complex, like ones involving financial crimes or people experiencing mental health emergencies.
Lengthy response times can impact public safety and relationships between officers and community members, police leaders said. Officers who don’t arrive soon enough may miss an opportunity to stop a crime. And long waits can jeopardize evidence collection, making it harder to solve cases.
Because long response times can create stress for officers, the role of supervisors is critically important, department leaders say.
“We don’t want officers to take shortcuts or create situations where their safety or the safety of others is at risk from rushed decisions to clear calls more quickly,” said San Diego police Capt. Jeffrey Jordon.
Police and community leaders say that if the situation doesn’t improve, it could lead residents to distrust police, which is already an issue in some communities.
“The immediate impact is anger, and it leads to questions about their personal safety and trust they have in the San Diego Police Department,” Jordon said.
Bishop Cornelius Bowser, a longtime advocate of police reform, agrees. Though the department may have different categories for different types of calls, community members don’t usually make those distinctions when they call officers for help, he said.
“These are serious incidents, and it feels to them like officers aren’t showing up,” Bowser said.
City officials have said that Mayor Todd Gloria has invested in a variety of initiatives designed to recruit and retain police officers, including a 10 percent pay raise in the most recent police contract, proposed bonuses for lateral moves from other police jurisdictions and increasing the budget for recruitment.
Department leaders are employing strategies to address long waits. Jordon said officers from specialty units across the department have been pulled back to patrol to better keep up with calls. The SWAT team, which responds to high-risk incidents; the motor unit, which provides traffic enforcement; and others have been affected.
Some police officials have expressed concern over this stop-gap measure, saying officers should be responding to people’s calls for help and that they also need time to get out of their patrol cars to build relationships with the residents they serve.
“We’re at the point where we’re just chasing 911 calls,” Jared Wilson, president of the San Diego Police Officers Association, said last month. “We’re not really doing a whole lot of preventive policing or patrolling. It’s really toxic for our community, for community trust.”
Long wait times affect officers’ satisfaction, too, Jordon said. “Officers want to be connected to the communities they serve. They want to have that feeling that they’re making a positive difference in the lives of others. And when they can’t get to calls in time — or when they get there, maybe they’re too late — they start to lose that sense that they’re a part of something bigger. That sense of connection.”
Some calls for service are now being handled online. For example, some non-injury crashes and reports of identity theft are being funneled to the department’s online reporting system.
The department also is exploring whether civilian staff members can take on some duties, such as investigating non-violent crimes, for which officers are currently responsible.