SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) — Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown said the amount of time it takes for officers to respond to top priority calls is “unacceptable. He said one of several solutions is to form a police civilian response team made up of retired officers.
The concept has been done in other cities in the country. Retired officers would be hired back as civilians to take low priority or low danger calls, like parking and noise complaints.
“We can free up (sworn) officers from those low priority calls to focus on the higher priority calls, because that’s what they want to do,” said Brown.
The chief said he is writing job descriptions for the civilian response team and hopes to have four to six officers hired in the next two weeks.
Brown has also made efforts to partner with non-profits and other groups to assist police in responding to calls that don’t require officers, like mental health calls.
The ideas were among several solutions Brown said he is considering to address the increasing, average response times which peaked in August at an average of 17 minutes, 34 seconds.
Brown said the goal is to have a maximum, 10 minute response time for priority one calls which include incidents like fights, fights with weapons or assaults, or domestic violence in progress.
Response times at the Salt Lake City Police Department have steadily increased since January 2020.
Police department numbers showed at that time, the average response time of Priority 1 calls was 8 minutes, 33 seconds. A year later, it increased to 11 minutes, then peaked August 2021 to 17 minutes, 34 seconds.
Response time as of September 21 back down to 14 minutes, 14 seconds.
“I can’t sit here and tell you 14 (minutes) is great. It’s not. We want to be at 10 (minutes). Even if it trends down a little bit, we have a lot of work to do,” said Brown.
Although Brown said he can’t pinpoint exactly why response times increased so much in August, it was clear that having 55 police officer job vacancies was an issue – especially as police calls have increased since 2018.
So far in 2021, the daily call average is 310.
“Without 55 officers on the street, it’s going to escalate response times,” said Brown.
2News previously reported many Salt Lake officers quit since 2020, citing low morale at work and little support from the chief.
Brown said he’s made mistakes as a chief but has tried to listen to officers and understand their concerns. He said to address morale the city gave officers a raise to match the demands of working in a busy, metro city.
He said the vehicle take-home rules were also changed to benefit officers.
Brown said by the end of the year, 25 vacancies will be filled. Nineteen officers were in training, while another five were hired from other police departments.
Another 20 officers in the police academy were expected to be on the job by June 2022.
Brown said August 2021 response times seem to be “an outlier,” because response times were down by three minutes in September 2021.
“They aren’t where we want them,” he said. “This police department will do more and deliver better.”