Our Views: Police response time progress welcome, but it’s not enough _lowres

The Advocate file photo

If you need an officer, will the cop be there for you? As of now, the New Orleans Police Department is doing a better job of responding to emergency calls, but it’s far from meeting the goals set by new leadership.

Six months after officials pledged to crack down on abysmal response times, New Orleans police are getting to crime scenes more quickly, nibbling away at the department’s 79-minute average response time. An analysis by The New Orleans Advocate and WWL-TV found that the improvements appear to have plateaued, despite the changes made by Superintendent Michael Harrison.

The analysis found that average response time for all calls has fallen from 1 hour and 19 minutes to 1 hour, a 24 percent decrease from where things stood as of August. But that means it still takes an officer twice as long to arrive on the scene as it did at the beginning of 2010.

For emergencies such as felonies and crimes in progress, known as Priority 2 calls, the average response time has decreased from about 20 minutes to about 16 minutes. In early 2010, officers would take an average of about 10 minutes to respond to similar calls.

The department is still far from reaching its self-imposed goal of responding to 90 percent of Priority 2 calls in 7 minutes or less, and less-urgent Priority 1 calls in 14 minutes or less. The department hit its goal about 36 percent of the time in April for Priority 2 calls and 39 percent of the time for Priority 1.

It does not take Sherlock Holmes to figure that catching a burglar depends on the quick response of a uniformed officer, and Harrison, with the support of Mayor Mitch Landrieu, has made meaningful changes. More officers are on the streets instead of riding desks, and Harrison, who projects the image of a cop’s cop, says the department is changing the way officers operate to get the job done.

The City Council also wisely agreed to penalize owners of properties that repeatedly are sites of false burglar alarms, which officials argue take up a large portion of officers’ time. And the department is seeking to spend more money on technology so there is less time for officers to be consumed with paperwork.

The city also sought authority in the Legislature to allow minor car crashes to be reported online or over the phone after the fact, instead of spending officers’ time on the requests. That bill died, though.

Still, Harrison says his key problem is not enough boots on the ground. “As I’ve stated, and I don’t know how much I have to say it, the only way to really fix this is to add more police officers and to bring them on really fast,” he told The Advocate.

Unhappily, the voters rejected in a low-turnout April election a millage that would have paid for a rapid beefing up of police manpower. We supported that proposal.

We suspect that one day something like it will again come before voters. But it is only human nature for those left waiting for hours after a burglary or other crime to sour on investments in the force. The chief and his team need to keep pushing for improved response times as a way of earning the public confidence for bigger investments in the force.