APD attributes low call response times to increased population, understaffing

Anna Lassmann

Emergency and urgent call response times have failed to meet the goals set by the Austin Police Department over the past six years, according to APD’s website.

In 2017, APD’s average response time to emergency and urgent calls was 8.12 minutes with a response time goal of 8.04 minutes, according to APD’s website. The last time APD met its response time goal was 2011, with the goal set at 7.38 minutes and APD achieving a time of 6.45 minutes. From 2011 to 2017, the average response time has risen approximately 26 percent.

APD Chief Brian Manley said this slower response time is caused by an understaffed department servicing a rapidly growing population.

“We know that we get more calls for service with a larger population,” Manley said. “That puts a greater demand on our officers’ time and that can increase response times because we’re tied up handling more calls.”

Manley said the population growth not only increases the demand for APD officers but increases traffic issues which can affect the response to calls.

“It takes us longer sometimes to get to calls for service just based on the increased traffic congestion that we have seen over the past several years in Austin,” Manley said.

The city of Austin has been growing by about 25,000 people each year for the past six or seven years, City Demographer Ryan Robinson said. By 2020, Austin is projected to surpass the one million people population mark.

“When you grow as rapidly as we have, there’s just no way you can keep up,” Robinson said. “I’m hopeful that in the next five to 10 years we’ll get a chance to catch up.”

Understaffing also contributes to APD’s slow response time, Manley said.

Although APD is authorized to employ 1,908 officers, Manley said there are currently about 40 vacancies in the department.

“Staffing has an absolute correlation to response times,” Manley said. “You need to have officers available and in service to respond to these calls and the only way you’re going to have that is if you’re adequately staffed.”

In 2016, the city hired a consulting firm to do a study on APD and their staffing needs, Manley said. Currently, APD is working with the Austin City Council to implement the findings and recommendations of the report by the firm, which includes the number of new officers APD needs.

Journalism junior Sahar Chmais said she called 911 five months ago when someone in her home became unresponsive. Chmais said she was on the phone with the 911 call center for over seven minutes waiting for Emergency Medical Services or APD to respond before she and her father decided to take matters into their own hands and rush them to the emergency room.

“If you have someone dying on your hands and you’re freaking out on the phone saying, ‘I need help, I need someone now,’ and they’re taking over seven minutes, then you’ve got real trouble,” Chmais said.