When you call the police, you want an officer there as quickly as possible.
But, in the city of Nashville, it's now taking Metro police longer than ever to answer your calls for help. That's the latest Truth About Crime uncovered by NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
Metro police brass say the response times to the most serious calls still aren't bad, but that's little consolation to all the people left waiting for help.
"If you can't get them to come the one time in your life that you need them, I don't think we're safe," said Dale Hemmerly Miller, who explained that a relative's boyfriend was outside his Inglewood house last weekend threatening to kill him.
Miller locked himself in his house and called for police, but it took more than two hours for officers to arrive.
In fact, our NewsChannel 5 investigation discovered that, every night on the streets of Nashville, it's the same story. Police radios crackle with the sounds of patrol officers struggling to find time to take crime reports.
With more officers assigned to make traffic stops and work specialized units, new figures show that Metro's average response time for all calls jumped dramatically -- from 18.7 minutes in 2003 to more than 30 minutes last year.
Metro Police Response Times
Code 1 (Routine)
Code 2 (Urgent)
Code 3 (Emergency)
For non-emergency, Code 1 calls -- people wanting to report thefts and burglaries, for example -- the average response time skyrocketed to more than 45 minutes.
"If you've called the police, then any time that you spend waiting is a long period of time to you," said Robert Weaver, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police.
Weaver says an employee survey earlier this year shows the frustration that patrol officers feel. One officer wrote:
"We are the only unit in the department that answers calls, yet we are being told to ignore them and make more stops.... Imagine how angry any of us would be if we were kept waiting for five or more hours to have an auto burglary report taken.... It happens fairly frequently."
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Weaver, "Have you ever heard anyone in the administration say, we are making these people wait too long?"
"I have not heard that said, that we need to get to these quicker," Weaver responded.
"They didn't care?" we wanted to know.
"It was not in their calculation," the FOP president explained.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Acting Police Chief Steve Anderson if response times matter.
"Certainly on any emergency-type call, response times are very important," Anderson said.
Despite the occasional complaint, Anderson said he doesn't think most people mind having to wait if officers are doing things to catch the bad guys.
Still, last year, more than 30,000 callers waited more than an hour -- close to half of those were Code 2 calls that were deemed "urgent."
Altogether, more than 9,000 folks waited more than two hours -- 2,200 of them were "urgent."
And get this: 3,500 people had to wait more than three hours to talk to an officer.
So what happened to customer service?
"Well, customer service is protecting the community," Anderson said.
But dispatch recordings from Metro PD show how one officer struggled with whether to make a traffic stop, letting the driver in a non-injury auto accident just wait.
Officer 1: "I've got an expired tag in front of me -- on the way to a 45. What would you do?" Officer 2: "Stop it. They're whining about stats." Officer 1: "That's good enough reason for me not to." Officer 2: "You'll get written up for not having the stats."
"That is the focus," FOP president Weaver said, "and it's more, more, more stops."
Chief Anderson said there's a reason. "We do vehicle stops for the purpose of detecting criminal activity, arresting people that have outstanding warrants, arresting people that have stolen goods in their car."
But some officers say they worry that the longer it takes for them to get to the scene -- for example, an auto burglary on a downtown street -- the more likely the victims are to give up.
In fact, the number of so-called Code 5s -- where the citizen was gone on arrival -- jumped from 42,000 in 2003 to 46,000 in 2004.
By 2006, there were 49,000 gone on arrival.
Since then, it's dropped. Still, last year, the person or problem was gone 40,000 times by the time police arrived.
"You do worry about people saying, you know, it's not worth, if they are not going to come out here when I call, then it's not worth me calling," Weaver said.
While police insist that any lost crime reports probably are recaptured later when the citizen calls back -- or police call them -- critics say the response times show that police brass have forgotten that they are there both to protect and to serve.
Oddly, even though response times are up, the number of people calling police is down.
Critics like Councilman Michael Craddock say that shows police just aren't making customer service a priority.
So what can be done about this problem?
A study commissioned by Metro government seven years ago suggested using civilian, community-service officers for non-dangerous situations -- for example, to take crime reports -- so police can spend their time fighting crime, just like the chief suggests.
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