A county report says Gilroy police take the longest to respond to emergencies of any city in the area—but police and city officials say it’s likely that the report is wrong, even though the department is working to improve its slow response times.
The report by the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission, which shares information among cities to try and exchange ideas and improve services, reported that Gilroy police takes 12 minutes and 34 seconds on average to respond to an emergency call.
In comparison, San Jose takes 6 minutes and 42 seconds; Campbell five minutes; Milpitas 2 minutes and 33 seconds; and Morgan Hill 4 minutes and 30 seconds.
Interim City Administrator Ed Tewes and Police Chief Denise Turner have asked the agency to review its report, saying it doesn’t appear that the data reflect “apples to apples” comparisons, and that Gilroy has much better record for responding to life-threatening responses, which wasn’t factored into the county report and is in line with the other cities.
Gilroy separates emergency responses into those that are life-threatening, called Priority E and those that are serious, called Priority 1, but don’t necessarily mean a life is in danger. Life-threatening calls include domestic violence, drive-by shootings and assaults. There have been 129 of those this year and police responded to 95 percent of them in just under six minutes, Turner said.
Priority 1 calls include property damage and car accidents, and 1,841 of them took an average of 12 minutes for police to get to, although even those numbers might be skewed, she said. With only two dispatchers, it’s taking GPD longer to process calls and sometimes non-emergency calls are getting factored in with those requiring faster service.
However, a city study showed that in 2014, Gilroy police were not meeting their own goals of responding to calls in under five minutes. They met the goal 51 percent of the time for life-threatening calls and only 31 percent of the time for the lesser Priority 1 calls.
Turner said that number, which dropped from 95 percent the previous two years, might reflect short staffing because of injuries and outdated recording systems.
“Basically, I think what’s happening is it’s taking a long time to get to a Priority 1 call, when in fact we’re doing pretty darn good getting to calls when people’s lives are in danger,” said Turner.
“Sometimes we have to wait for backup and it skews the times,” said Turner. An officer may have arrived at the scene, but couldn’t go into a dangerous situation without a second officer to back him or her up.
Other times, calls that turned out not to be emergencies never got taken off the emergency list when they were found to be lesser priorities. For example, a call for shots fired that turned out to be a car backfiring. It can take dispatchers minutes to process the call, which are being added to the total count, she said.
“For the most part, when you look at our actual times, it’s not that bad,” said Turner. “It can be better.”
Sgt. Royce Heath added that sometimes officers arrive on the scene and take action before they have a chance to notify the dispatcher that they are there, which pushes the response time up. The department sets high goals and tries to meet them, he added.
The city council has approved adding more officers to a staff that has been cut to 56 because of injuries. Only 28 officers are on patrol and responding to calls for service. The others work specialized assignments, such as the gang task force, investigations and administration.
In July the city will have 66 officers for a population of around 50,000 people, covering 16 square miles. The department has recently hired an analyst to help get the numbers in line.
The city’s violent crimes have mostly dropped in the first half of 2015, but property crimes moved up. There were no murders in 2015, but one in 2014; seven rapes in 2015 and six in 2014; 21 aggravated assaults in 2015 down from 26 in 2014. Domestic violence cases dropped from 54 in 2014 to 38 in 2015.
But there were 99 burglaries in the first half of 2015, up from 53 in 2014; 386 thefts, up from 251 and 75 cars stolen, compared to 60 in 2014.
Police arrested 598 adults in 2015 and 40 juveniles compared to 579 and 71 in 2014.
“I think from when I got hired in 2008 we are in a much better place,” said Turner. “We have more officers and we are arresting a ton of bad guys. We are doing really good police work. I don’t know that any citizens have suffered or complained about our response times or service.”