NOPD response times have been in the news plenty of late, most recently with the armed holdup of more than a dozen diners at Patois restaurant in Uptown, an incident to which police took nearly a half-hour to respond. Other stories have chronicled even longer response times to less-urgent but still serious crimes; for instance, a Bywater comedy club made news a few weeks ago following a slow response to a business burglary. According to the report, the club was broken into three times in early August, with NOPD responding over 10 hours after the first incident and 8 hours hours after the second. Both break-ins were marked as “unfounded” by the police because the club owner wasn’t present when the officers arrived.

Business burglaries highlight the difficulties NOPD faces due to its shrinking manpower.  These incidents are rarely emergencies and are hence given a far lower priority for response than emergencies such as shootings and robberies.

Reviewing Calls for Service for all business burglaries since 2011 shows that NOPD has responded to these incidents much more slowly in 2015 than it did in 2011.  I calculated business burglary totals by using Calls for Service data for business burglary (62B) incidents that received an NOPD dispatch.

In this database, response times are calculated as the difference between a call’s time of creation and the time of dispatch.  The response time does not include the time it takes the officer to arrive on the scene, but it is the closest possible representation with the available data.  Business burglary response times by year are provided in the below table.

Business Burglary Response Times by Year, 2011 – 2015 (*estimated pace as of mid-August). Source: NOPD.

As can be seen, both the number of business burglaries and the average response time have increased over the last few years. The degree of increasing response times is best shown in the chart below.

Rolling Average Business Burglary Over 30 Day Period, 2011 – August 2015. Source: NOPD.

This chart calculates the average response time to business burglaries over the previous 30 days for every day since 2011. Response times averaged between 30 minutes to an hour for most of 2011 to 2013 before jumping in 2014 and peaking at nearly 5 hours on average in mid-2015. The average response time to a business burglary between mid-July and mid-August had come down to just over 4 hours.

Response times of more than 10 hours — such as the comedy club experienced — are rare, although they have become more common since the beginning of 2014.  There were no business burglaries between 2011 and 2013 with a response time over 10 hours. There were 11 business burglaries with a response time over 10 hours in 2014 (1.8 percent of that year’s total), and there have been 34 business burglaries with a response time over 10 hours in 2015 (7.5 percent of 2015’s total).

The other interesting angle to the comedy club burglary is the impact longer response times have had on business burglary investigations. Over 96 percent of all business burglary incidents have received a disposition of ‘Report to Follow’ (RTF) or ‘Unfounded’ (UNF) since the beginning of 2011. The breakdown of business burglaries by disposition since 2011 is provided in the below table. Notably, the percentage of cases classified as “Unfounded” has more than doubled since 2011. Incidents deemed unfounded are not counted as crimes in the city’s Uniform Crime Reports, and perhaps more importantly, they generally receive no follow-up investigation from the NOPD.

Business Burglary by Disposition and Year, 2011 – 2015. Source: NOPD.

A closer look at the data shows longer response times play a role in this phenomenon. Incidents with a longer response time are far more likely to be considered unfounded — perhaps because, as in the comedy club case, the complainant is no longer present when police arrive. For example, 62 percent of business burglaries that took longer than 10 hours for dispatch were considered unfounded, while just 29 percent received further investigation and 9 percent were some other disposition.

This effect is shown in the chart below, which separates average response time for RTF and UNF for each year since 2011.

Business Burglary by Disposition and Year, 2011 - 2015. Source: NOPD.
Business Burglary by Disposition and Year, 2011 – 2015. Source: NOPD.

Over 80 percent of business burglaries in 2015 have received an RTF disposition and a response within 90 minutes. However, there is an increasing number of business burglaries that have both gotten a much slower response and been deemed unfounded. This effect can be seen in the below scatter plot of 2015 business burglaries by disposition. Burglary complainants have experienced longer waits for police dispatch since around mid-May, and longer a wait usually results in an unfounded disposition.

Business Burglary Response Time by Disposition, 2015. Source: NOPD.
Business Burglary Response Time by Disposition, 2015. Source: NOPD.

The available data cannot prove that longer response times are causing more cases to be considered unfounded, but the comedy club’s experience provides an interesting anecdotal example that suggests this could be a contributing factor.

With NOPD’s troop strength at historic lows, non-emergency response times are a citywide issue. The NOPD’s 5th District Commander noted in response to the comedy club break-in that more resources will help bring down  response times. It is important, however, that longer response times do not become a mechanism for declaring more non-emergency incidents as unfounded — and thus not investigating them further or counting them as crimes.

This post was previously published by The New Orleans Advocate.