Denver police response times for high priority calls up 25 percent in five years, report says

Since the death of Kristine Kirk, who was allegedly murdered by her husband, Richard Kirk, while she was on the phone with a 911 operator, a great deal of attention has been focused on emergency response times in Denver.

Now, the Denver auditor's office has released a report on that very topic. The document, on view below, finds that the thirteen minutes or so it took for officers to reach the Kirk residence is typical rather than notably excessive. But data also shows that response times are up across the board in the past five years, with cops taking 25 percent longer to react to high-priority calls than they did in 2008.

In our earlier coverage, we noted that on April 14, Kristine called 911 to say Richard was behaving strangely after possibly eating a marijuana edible; he was also on medication for his back. Kristine said Richard was hallucinating, talking about the end of the world and declaring his intention to shoot her -- which he did, while she was still on the line with the operator.

The call took in the range of twelve-thirteen minutes. Moreover, a police station is only a short distance away from the Kirks' home on St. Paul Street, near the DU campus, and officers were less than a mile away at the time of the shooting. If they'd been dispatched immediately, some observers believe a tragedy might have been averted.

The operator subsequently resigned. However, a Manager of Safety's report about the incident, released last month, suggested that a flaw in the 911 system may have also contributed to Kristine's death -- one that's been addressed by assorted policy changes, including immediate notification of a dispatch supervisor when a high-priority report comes in and more leeway for officers to designate calls for immediate action.

Enter the auditor, whose report doesn't specifically address the Kirk situation, although it's widely thought to have been at least partly motivated by it. The document points out that "police response time became an issue of concern for citizens after increases were observed and reported through recent media coverage."

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The findings? Between 2008 and 2013, Priority 0-2 calls -- defined as "imminent danger or a life-threatening emergency" -- rose from 11.4 minutes on average to 14.3 minutes, an increase of just over 25 percent. Likewise, Priority 3-6 calls -- "quality of life and public-needs calls" -- went from 20.5 minutes to 23.3 minutes, up approximately 8.8 percent.

Here's a graphic from the report highlighting the Priority 0-2 findings....

...and here's one depicting Priority 3-6 calls: The report also quantifies response times in each of the Denver Police Department's six districts -- and the differences between those at either end of the scale is nearly five minutes.

Continue for more about the police response times report, including the original document and a letter from Denver Police Chief Robert White. We've pulled out high-priority-incident response graphics for each district. Here's District 1....

...District 2.... ...District 3.... ...District 4.... ...District 5.... ...and District 6: As you can see, the fastest response time is in District 6, at 11.46 minutes, while the slowest is in District 4, at 16.32 minutes -- a difference just shy of five minutes.

Here's a graphic that pulls the response times for all the districts together:

Why have the times risen since 2008? The auditor's report "found that decreasing staffing levels is the primary cause for the increases in response times. Despite the significant impact that staffing has on response times, we found that DPD's current staffing approach continues to evolve and DPD has not determined or been approved for the number of officers it needs to achieve its current goals."

In a letter prompted by the report, Denver Police Chief Robert White tries to put these numbers into perspective. He writes that "response times are just one of the tools smart police departments use to address and prevent crime, which is the primary focus of the Denver Police Department. That is why we employ a larger crime prevention strategy focused on proactively eliminating crime before it requires a reactive call for service or a law enforcement response." (The italics are in the original.)

White highlights the following points:

• A downward trend in response times which we expect will continue to improve as even more officers graduate from the Police Academy and are place on the streets.

• A 5% decrease in crime/reported offenses.

• A 10% decrease in citizen calls for police service. An 81% increase in officer productivity.

• An 11% increase in case clearance (from 69% to 80%).

Look below to read the auditor's report in its entirety, followed by Chief White's letter.

Denver Police Response Time Performance Audit

Denver Police Department Response Times Letter

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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