Crime

Special report: New Orleans Police response time average is 79 minutes

JEFF ADELSON, MATT SLEDGE AND DAVID HAMMER

This graphic, designed by Dan Swenson of The Advocate, shows average police response times in New Orleans from 2010 to 2015.
This graphic, designed by Dan Swenson of The Advocate, shows average police response times in New Orleans from 2010 to 2015.

When a woman was choked nearly unconscious in Gentilly last year, police reached the scene 39 hours later.

It took 40 minutes for an officer to show up after a man was beaten so viciously in the Marigny this month that he remains paralyzed. When the cop finally arrived, the witnesses were gone, and so was the victim.

A man broke Sheetrock and fence boards during the course of a domestic dispute with his mother in the 7th Ward last year, and his alarmed landlord reported it. An officer showed up a full 23 hours later and deemed the call “miscellaneous,” as if no crime had taken place.

Such laggard responses to emergency police calls in New Orleans have fast become the norm, according to an analysis of more than five years of police response data by The New Orleans Advocate and WWL-TV.

New Orleans police are taking more than three times longer to respond to a typical call than they did in 2010 as the department faces a crushing backlog that leaves callers waiting hours or even days for an officer to arrive. And it’s not just run-of-the-mill theft and petty burglary reports stuck in the queue.

 

The New Orleans Police Department has taken pains to prioritize violent crimes, but a depleted force means cops are struggling to respond quickly to domestic disturbances, shootings and even murders.

Urgent “Code 2” calls now take police nearly 20 minutes on average to reach the scene. That’s double the nine-minute, 47-second clip logged in 2010, according to the news organizations’ analysis of every call for service taken by the NOPD since the start of 2010 — some 2.7 million records.

For less dire “Code 1” situations, which can include armed robberies and burglaries where the victim is no longer in danger, cops arrive nearly two hours and 11 minutes later on average, more than four times longer than 2010.

As the clock ticks, the chances grow that a bad situation will escalate. Meanwhile, precious evidence can be lost, and victims and witnesses may decide to just give up, resulting in crimes that are dismissed by police who arrive and find nothing to investigate. Victims say longer response times have eroded their trust in the police and make them less likely to report crimes in the future.

Police officers now mark up nearly 1 in 4 calls as either “gone on arrival” or “unfounded,” about double the percentage in 2010. None of those calls appears in police statistics as reported crimes.

A string of frightening incidents in recent months has shone a spotlight on the NOPD’s struggles in getting officers to crime scenes quickly. Among them was anarmed robbery of patrons at the well-known Uptown restaurant Patois in which 2nd District police — among the most prompt of the city’s eight districts — took 17 minutes to show up.

But the problem is far deeper than one high-profile holdup. It extends to every part of the city, snowballing as the number of officers on the street has dwindled. The NOPD’s headcount has fallen from 1,525 officers in 2010, when Mayor Mitch Landrieu came into office, to 1,154 officers as of Tuesday, including 62 police recruits who have yet to hit the pavement.

Overall, officers took just over 24 minutes to respond to the average call in 2010. This year, the wait time has spiraled to one hour and 19 minutes, according to the data. The analysis included all response times of more than 10 seconds, the rule of thumb NOPD has used to informally determine which calls are self-initiated by an officer.

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