What causes slow police response times?

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A KIRO 7 investigation found Seattle police response times of an hour to three hours to home break-ins across the city, failing to meet the department’s own standards.

Rob and Lindsay Walbrun had just gotten home from dinner with their son, Alec, the week before Christmas when they noticed the side gate to their Magnolia home was open.

The Walbruns quickly realized that someone had broken into their home through the kitchen window, which they thought had been latched shut. Lindsay Walbrun spotted a clump of mud and leaves on the kitchen counter, as if someone had stepped onto the counter from outside.

“I know it happens all the time but when it's your own home ... your own things, your own personal space, it's a pretty sick feeling,” Rob Walbrun said.

Presents were missing from under the tree.

“Then we thought, is there somebody still in the house?”  Lindsay Walbrun said.

They rushed across the street to their neighbors’ home and called 911.

“It felt like a really long time because we were trying to help my son not be scared,” she said.

They say it was up to 60 minutes before police showed up.

Once they did, the Walbruns said they were attentive and thorough. But that response time misses the department's standards, which direct them to respond in less than 40 minutes.

KIRO 7 obtained 911 data that shows SPD is regularly fails to meet those standards for lower-priority crimes, like home break-ins and car thefts, in some cases, taking an average of two to three hours to respond.

Not only is it happening in the West Precinct where the Walbruns live, but all over the city on different days of the week and different times of the day.

KIRO 7 brought the data to Mike Wagers, chief operating officer for the Seattle Police Department. Wagers has been reviewing 911 emergency and non-emergency response times since November.

“If that were your home?” KIRO 7 asked.

“I would be extremely frustrated and I'd be extremely mad at the police,” Wagers said.

Wagers pointed to the growing Seattle population and said that SPD meets and exceeds standards for emergencies like shootings and armed robberies. However, he admits cases like the Walbruns’ are a problem.

“We have to address the problem and we're trying a variety of different ways to do it, because it's unacceptable if citizens out there are waiting several hours for us to respond to a call,” he said.

Wagers said SPD is spending $46,500 on a consulting group that is reviewing the 911 communications center’s operations. That, he said, could lead to reprioritizing some kinds of calls or even adding civilian staff there to specifically deal with low-priority calls.

He also cited Mayor Ed Murray’s big pledge to add 100 more officers to the force.

SPD is spending $112,000 for a company to do a top to bottom review of the Seattle Police Department to determine the best allocation of resources. Wagers said that means figuring out where those new officers will be needed most, both in geography and units, and whether even more need to be hired.

He said in the Southwest Precinct, commanders are pushing officers to dust for fingerprints at scenes more often to meet the mayor’s commitment to a 15-percent reduction in property crime.

“If we can get there and we can arrest these prolific offenders, that’s a huge dent in property crime and in turn a huge dent in calls for service that are coming in to the department,” Wagers said.

Of course, not all calls fail to meet standards. KIRO 7 spoke with another Magnolia neighbor, Todd, who’s been the victim of several break-ins over the years and asked KIRO 7 to only use his first name.

When a burglar broke into his home before Christmas, he said officers arrived much faster than he expected or had experienced in the past.
“It was faster than I assumed,” he said. “Fifteen minutes for a non-life-threatening emergency seemed okay to me.”

But he is well aware of complaints not only in Magnolia but other areas of the city.

“If we don’t have the trust of the citizens, it makes the job we have a lot harder,” Wagers said. “We want to increase the trust they have in the Seattle Police Department.”

The Walbruns are glad to hear it.

“Knowing that they're taking steps or making measures to improve is a very positive thing,” Rob Walbrun said.

Click here to see Seattle police response time data and a Q and A about how to understand it.

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