DENVER - The Denver Police Department says when people call for help on non-emergency calls, they have to wait - sometimes for hours.
Over the last several months, DPD leadership and its officers' union have been in the middle of a very public disagreement over what's causing longer wait times. DPD says the city doesn't have enough officers, the union says the new staffing model called "team policing" is to blame.
"It's taking us longer to get to calls," Lt. Matt Murray, Chief Robert White's chief of staff and spokesman, said. "I know that times now are tough, they are long. There's people waiting for hours sometimes. It's not normal, but they are waiting for us to respond to non-emergency calls."
DPD provided 9NEWS with statistics showing average response time to a non-emergency call is currently almost 27 minutes.
Both sides agree Denver's staffing is low.
The reasons Denver doesn't have enough officers are simple: DPD has not had an academy since 2008. Like many cities back then, with the recession, the money wasn't there. At the height of its staffing in 2008 during the Democratic National Convention, DPD had 1,550 officers. Its authorized strength is 1,426. Nowadays, DPD has 1,350. DPD says it is 200 officers short and this means the patrol division is short officers as well.
Both sides have taken to social media to present their point.
It's a story 9NEWS first brought you in May. We're following up because 9WANTS to Know what it would take to get officers to your door faster.
"Call wait times are extreme," a patrol officer said to 9NEWS crime and justice reporter Anastasiya Bolton.
The officer wanted 9NEWS to identify him as "Robert." He's worked on patrol for many years. He asked 9NEWS not to show his face during the interview and not to use his real name. He explains why.
"Fear of retaliation: There is likely to be people upset about this story and could be upset enough that they could do something about that," Robert said.
The police union asked a number of officers to speak to 9NEWS. The meetings were held at the Police Protective Association headquarters in Denver.
Robert is one of three officers 9NEWS interviewed. All three officers work patrol and shared the same opinion and feelings about their job right now. They say it's frustrating. Robert's job is to respond to 911 calls.
"You're down to the point where you might be waiting one or two or three hours to get a cop out in the middle of the day," Robert said.
Everyone 9NEWS interviewed for this story agreed. The calls that wait are not emergency, life or death calls. They are the burglaries, the thefts, the car accidents, the calls that - depending on the circumstances - are considered "not-emergent."
"There is a certain element to where it starts to feel pretty pointless," Robert said. "You show up on things that have been over for two hours, [and] there's nothing left to do. You're simply driving there for the sake of driving there."
Robert says in his experience, there are two reasons why some calls end up waiting.
"One is, Denver is critically short of cops," he said. "The second thing that's coming together with that is with the team concept. You have days where you're basically thick-and-thin, and you get days when you're thin. There's only so much that seven to eight guys, nine guys can do in a police district."
What Robert is describing is a concept called "team policing," - a concept Chief Robert White introduced in January 2013. It basically means the same group of officers work the same days for a year. The advantage is that officers get to know each other and the area they work, which would lead to crime prevention. DPD says most police departments across the country use this staffing structure.
Robert and his police union say Denver doesn't have enough officers for this staffing model to work right now.
Lieutenant Vince Gavito is a supervisor in District 3 off University Boulevard and Interstate 25, as well as a member of the police union board.
"A year ago, the minimum staffing requirement for my shift in my district was 15 officers. Since we've gone to team policing, I can only hit that minimum 15 staffing two days a week. The other five days out of the week, I'm running 11. Somebody gets hurt or calls in sick, [there are only] 10 officers in the same geographic area."
READ: Number of officers, officers in patrol, officers patrolling
Gavito said Denver's team policing structure does not allow supervisors to move officers from team to team based on staffing needs. Officers can choose to work or fill in where the department is short on their days off. Those employees typically work five-hour shifts.
The police officers used to choose their days off once a month, versus the year-long commitment of team policing. Gavito said before each month, he could look at his staffing and plan for long-term absences of officers if necessary.
The police union says when shifts are short, the people who call police have to wait for officers to show up.
"In 2012 we had basically the same numbers [of patrol officers] and response times have changed drastically," Gavito said. "So, what changed between Dec. 31, 2012 and Jan. 1, 2013? We changed our staffing plan to this new team policing concept. It is our opinion because we live it, we work it, [and] we see it every single day we're out there that it's not working."
Another patrol officer 9NEWS interviewed told Bolton that, "non-emergency calls, in my opinion, are not acceptable," patrol officer "Dave" said. "If I was a citizen and I had to wait 60 minutes, an hour-and-a-half, two hours, two-and-a-half hours, three hours for an officer to come take a burglary report for example because my house is broken into, I had to wait till midnight for an officer to show up, I wouldn't be very happy."
Dave added, "Apparently the old system didn't work. We seemed to be doing OK. We would have shortages as far as staffing officers on the street every once in a while, but not on a daily basis, every week, every month."
DPD leadership sees it much differently.
"We're talking about other people's opinions, they have nothing to base that on other than their opinion," Murray said. "We're not going to deal with opinion. We're going to deal with fact. Let me be perfectly clear: Team policing has absolutely nothing to do with slower response times. There is no evidence whatsoever to indicate that it does. None."
Murray said the response times are slower because the department has fewer officers.
According to DPD statistics, in January 2012, the department had 561 patrol officers. In January 2013, it had 530. In July 2012, 557 were responding to calls. In July 2012, that number dropped to 526.
The staffing difference between the first seven months of 2012 and 2013 varies between 30 to 50 fewer officers.
Overall, the department has 200 fewer officers than at the height of is staffing during the Democratic National Convention in 2008.
"We are concerned," Murray said. "We would like our response times to get better. I can also tell you they are better than the models show they should be. Some of the management moves that we've made, have significantly impacted that response time and it's better than it could be."
9NEWS asked DPD for average response times statistics from January to July of 2012 and January to July of 2013.
The police department says on average in 2013, it takes officers 14.9 minutes to respond to critical and urgent calls - which is one minute slower, on average, from the same period last year.
"The number to the highest priority calls isn't terrible, but we'd like to see it get closer to six minutes," Murray said. "But we are definitely seeing a longer wait for folks when they're calling in a non-priority call."
Non-emergency calls now take 26.9 minutes on average, also up from 23 minutes for the same period in 2012.
DPD said the citizen-initiated calls between January to July of 2012 and the same period in 2013 are down from 198,891 to 175,140. While what they call "officer-initiated calls" are up, from 94,287 to 112,190.
HOW TO SOLVE THIS?
Murray said the police chief has done all he can to move as many people to patrol as possible.
Many positions within the police department formerly done by sworn officers are being civilianized to move officers to the street.
The first class of new recruits since 2008 is still training. The police department won't be up to its authorized strength until sometime in 2015.
"We believe it may get worse towards the end of this year before it gets better," Murray said.
The union suggested adjusting the team-policing concept to give teams more flexibility to move people around.
"We're all cops, we're Denver police officers," Gavito said. "We signed up to be public servants, and what we've got going right now is public disservice. And that's why we're being so vocal about it. It doesn't have to be this way. [With a] little compromise, we can accomplish what the chief wants to accomplish. His philosophy is not wrong. I want to be very clear on that. His methodology is wrong."
Another option could be to move patrol officers to a five day work week. They currently work four to 10-hour days. Patrol is the only division in DPD that has three days off each week.
"From a strictly managerial viewpoint, five-eights would probably be easier to staff with the lean resources that we have," Gavito said.
It's up to the chief to change that schedule.
"If they want to work with the chief, they meet monthly. They can bring that up, and I'm sure the two of them will work on that together," Murray said.
Everyone agrees there is a problem. It's taking police longer to respond to some calls. The solution or solutions are a sticking point all sides will have to figure out.
"We just want to do our jobs effectively," Gavito said.
IS THERE A PERFECT RESPONSE TIME?
There is no national standard when it comes to police-response times.
When asked what an ideal time would be for a non-emergency call, the union and the officers 9NEWS spoke with said it should be 30 minutes or less.
How many officers does Denver Police Department need?
Murray told 9NEWS that in order for an officer to get to an urgent call in six minutes, instead of the average of 15, the city would need 1,475 police officers. Once again, DPD's authorized strength is 1,426 and currently it has 1,350 on staff.
Taxpayers would have to decide whether they want to pay for more officers and better response times.
9NEWS does not take sides and is not responsible for any opinions or statistics in any of the video links provided as extra information.
These three videos were released by the PPA regarding the opinion of the non-emergency call wait time:
The following are videos released by DPD regarding the non-emergency call wait time:
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