KIRO 7 investigates Kent police response times going up

KENT, Wash. — As new data obtained by KIRO 7 shows, police response times in Kent are climbing for nearly every area of the city and all types of calls, the Kent Police Chief warned they will likely get worse.

Larry Freeman, a Lakewood man who served as a military policeman for the U.S. Army before retiring after 26 years, experienced one of those long waits when he was robbed at gunpoint.

Freeman had left his clinic off Pacific Highway in September and was sitting in his truck when an SUV pulled up behind him and two young men jumped out wielding guns. They demanded his wallet and when Freeman resisted because he needed his military ID, they took his cash and took off.

Security camera video shows his wife leaving the clinic a minute later and joining him at the truck.

“She got a bit emotional thinking that… I could have been killed,” he said.

Freeman called 911 to report the robbery and waited in the parking lot, steps away from an empty-looking Kent Police substation.

KIRO 7 went through the 911 response data and found out he called at 10:53 a.m. Police arrived at 12:57 p.m., more than two hours later.

“Were you surprised it took that long for police to get to you?” KIRO 7 reporter Linzi Sheldon asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “They don’t have as many resources as they used to have. So it’s going to take them a while to get there now.”

Freeman said the officer was apologetic when he arrived.

“[He] said he had just come on duty,” Freeman said.

KIRO 7 dug through last year’s response times and found in most emergencies, Kent police are getting there pretty fast. But with priority two calls, like a recent armed burglary, home or commercial burglaries in progress, or physical assaults in progress, KIRO 7 found some people waited for hours.

Reporter Linzi Sheldon shared Freeman’s wait time with Kent’s Chief of Police Rafael Padilla.

“Larry, I’m sorry,” he said. “That’s not how this should go. It’s a failure.”

“Why did it take so long?” Sheldon asked.

“We don’t have the staff, right?” Padilla said. “And officers should have been there within minutes, not hours. And this is a growing problem.”

Just how big?

KIRO 7 compared the past three years of police 911 response times in Kent, which revealed a troubling trend.

“I see a lot of worst in three years,” Padilla said. “I’m not surprised to see that we’re not performing as well as we were three years ago. I’m just surprised at how prevalent it is and all in all these categories.”

Padilla said his department is way behind other cities like Everett and Bellevue when it comes to the number of officers for the population size.

According to recent numbers, Everett had about 201 sworn officers or about 1.81 officers per 1,000 residents. And Kent data noted that Everett had hired more officers since. The same data stated Tacoma had approximately 336 sworn officers, or about 1.53 officers per 1,000 residents while Bellevue had approximately 186 officers or 1.24 officers per 1,000 residents.

Kent had 166 officers, or 1.20 officers per 1,000 residents, and Padilla, said, Kent is “probably three times as busy in terms of call demand” compared to Bellevue.

So how do you fix this? Two bills in the state legislature aimed to give counties and cities the option of increasing sales tax to pay for more police.

That would have been three more cents on every 10 dollars in Kent. Padilla says that would have allowed him to hire 30 to 35 more officers “to get us to average staffing,” he said.

But the bills didn’t make it out of committee.

Padilla noted that he doesn’t have enough officers to staff the police substation near Freeman’s robbery all the time. He said that officers are often coming on shift with 20 calls waiting.

“We can’t wait around and kick this down the road,” he said. “This is an emergency. Now.”

Larry Freeman does things differently now. He immediately closes and locks his truck doors and is more vigilant than ever. And he feels strongly about making things safer for him, his family, and his community.

“You have to hire more police officers,” he said, “and you have to support your police.”

With the bills’ failure to move forward, Padilla said the city will likely have to ask voters for more funding in a ballot measure.

In the meantime, he expects wait times to keep going up.

“Unfortunately, you know, crime stays high,” he said. “We are doing to do our part and maximize everything we can as a police department. It’s just not good enough.”

Padilla said he’ll look at different ways to deploy officers and people may have to report more crimes online.

“We want an opportunity to do better for our community, and we’re not getting that opportunity,” he said.