- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Residents from around the District have expressed concern over city police officers’ slower response times to life-threatening emergencies, despite Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey’s assurances that response times are not a problem.

“It’s scary,” said Amy McVey, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in upper Northwest. “Criminals can do a lot of damage in eight minutes. And they know they have the time. That’s the scary part.”

“Response times are something everybody is concerned about,” said Vincent Spaulding, president of the Hillcrest Community Civic Association in Southeast.

The Washington Times reported Monday that city police officers last year took more than a minute longer to respond to the highest-priority calls, such as armed robberies, assaults and shootings in progress, than they did in 2002.

According to the Metropolitan Police Department’s fiscal 2005 budget performance report, the average response time for the highest-priority calls was 8 minutes, 25 seconds in fiscal 2003. It was 7 minutes, 19 seconds in fiscal 2002, and 7 minutes, 47 seconds in fiscal 2001.

The department’s response times place it among the slowest in the metropolitan area and among a sampling of major cities of similar size, The Times reported.

Chief Ramsey told The Times on Monday that response times fluctuate and that there was no need for residents to be concerned.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday said the increase in response time was a concern, but that police are improving.

“The report I am getting is that the times, the police response times, are dropping,” Mr. Williams said at his weekly press briefing. “It is a concern. We’ve spent a lot of time on it.”In October 2003, the first month of fiscal 2004, police officers added another minute to their response time, reaching the scene of a Priority 1 emergency in 9 minutes, 34 seconds on average, according to new department statistics. However, during the first seven months of fiscal 2004, the department managed tolower its average response time to 8 minutes, 5 seconds still among the slowest in the region.

After finishing last month with an average response time of 6 minutes, 48 seconds, police officials said they are optimistic the average response time for the year could drop to as low as 7 minutes.

“That seems excessive,” said the Rev. Karen Doty, who works with the Shepherd Park Citizens Association in Northwest. “If someone is trying to break in your door, you don’t want there in 8 minutes, you want them there in 2.”

Kathy Atkinson, owner of the All About Jane boutique in Adams Morgan, said she has never had to call police for a life-threatening emergency, but added that an 8-minute response time is not reassuring. Miss Atkinson said she has called police for lower-priority matters.

“It does take a very long time to respond,” she said.

But James Miles, a substitute teacher from Northeast, said the importance of a quick response is “subjective.”

“If you’re frantic, you want them there immediately,” said Mr. Miles, 59. “But if someone’s already dead, then it doesn’t matter.”

Don Hughes of Northeast said city traffic has probably slowed police response to emergencies. Standing on a corner at North Capitol Street and New York Avenue NE, Mr. Hughes watched as the driver of an emergency vehicle with lights and sirens on struggled to cut a path through traffic.

“Look at that,” the 65-year-old retired chef said. “There’s no way to move through here.”

The District has an authorized strength of 3,800 officers to patrol 61 square miles occupied by 572,000 residents the highest-per-capita police force in the nation among cities with 500,000 residents or more.

In 2003, Prince George’s County Police had an average response time of 5 minutes, 46 seconds, and Fairfax County had an average time of 6 minutes, 6 seconds. Both suburbs have fewer police officers and more residents and encompass a much larger geographical area than the District.

Jim McElhatton contributed to this report.

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