NOPD response times have been in the news of late with my New Orleans Advocate/WWL-TV colleagues producing some excellent reporting on the issue. There are a few aspects of this overarching issue that have been discussed anecdotally but not in great detail from a data perspective.
This post, therefore, aims to look deeper at what variations in response times by time of day and district tell us about the role of reduced manpower on increased response times. A better understanding of the connection between lowered manpower and increased response times can then be used to describe how decreased manpower has led to NOPD’s declining proactivity.
When Do Response Times Increase?
Several thousand words have been devoted to tracking NOPD’s skyrocketing response times over the last few years. Not much has been said yet, however, about how response times vary by time of day.
Looking at response times in this way can help illustrate when and why response times go up. To begin with, I created a rolling chart of the average response time to UCR crimes over 30 days. It’s a pretty massive graphic, so click on the below image and zoom in to see the actual times.
This model provides a nice method of tracking changes in response times and determining whether city strategies are working. Three things jump out from looking at this chart. First, the depth of increase in response times over the summer is crystal clear. The average response to a UCR crime (regardless of disposition) between mid-June and mid-July was over 7 hours.
Second, we aren’t out of the woods yet. Things have improved from the summer, but responses as of the end of October were routinely averaging over 5 hours.
Finally, this chart highlights how increasing call volume in the middle of the day routinely overwhelms a manpower-starved NOPD. The early-morning and late-night hours typically see the fewest calls and get the fastest response, while the most calls come in the middle of the day through the evening. There is a fairly good statistical correlation between call volume and response time, showing that increasing manpower or strategies designed to improve the efficiency of existing manpower are most likely to be successful at solving the response time problem.
Another way of breaking down the problem is to look at each individual district’s performance by time of day. The graph below shows average response time by district for Priority 2 (emergency) calls in 2015.
As can be seen, the 5th and 7th District struggle the most with responding to emergency calls. The 7th District’s battle against New Orleans East’s huge geography and NOPD’s manpower problems is even more clear when looking at average response to Priority 1 (non-emergency) calls.
The 7th District faces the difficult challenge of an increasing population and a large geographic area with fewer police officers. Priority 1 calls in the 7th District regularly receive responses of over 4 hours, and a call around 3 p.m. averages nearly 5 hours and 20 minutes for a response.
Another way of looking at the manpower issue is by examining the individual units available to respond to calls at any given time. I randomly chose July 11, 2015 and used Calls for Service data from a public records request to record the number of units responding to calls in eight hour increments in the 7th District.
This is a small sample size but it highlights the strong relationship between manpower and response times. As calls increase in the afternoon and evening so too does the strain on manpower and the response times.
Less manpower means a less capable police force. Having established how call volume overwhelms the decreased NOPD, it is worth re-examining what this shortage means for beyond just longer wait times.
I have previously analyzed whether NOPD’s manpower shortage or a policy change is responsible for fewer arrests in New Orleans over the last few years. While the evidence shows NOPD is trying to focus resources on pursuing person crimes, it is fairly clear that the reduction in manpower is limiting NOPD’s ability to conduct proactive policing actions.
Proactvity can be measured by examining changes in several types of incidents from 2011 to 2015. These incidents have a median response time of around one minute, indicating these are the types of incidents that are initiated by officers when they are not backed up with more important emergency calls for service.
I looked at five crimes that tend to require proactivity to enforce: curfew violation, suspicious person incidents, driving while under the influence (DWI), drug law violations and illegal possession of a weapon. Each of these measures have consistently fallen since 2011, with NOPD enforcing 80 percent fewer curfew violations in 2015 than they did in 2011.
Collectively, these measures act as a “canary in the mine” regarding the impact of NOPD’s manpower woes. These measures show the difference between a relatively healthy police force capable of a range of proactive action in 2011 and the capability-challenged NOPD of 2015.
Another way to evaluate decreasing proactivity is to measure “self-initiated” policing actions – that is incidents created by the officer rather than in response to a call for service. For the sake of this analysis we’ll define self-initiated as any incident with a dispatch time within one minute of the call’s creation.
Self-Initiated calls, as defined here, are down 67 percent from 2011. This isn’t a perfect measure, but it does a good job of highlighting NOPD’s loss in capability since 2011.
This analysis is important because it shows how if this type of analysis had been conducted in 2014, it would have been able to point to a problem before response times skyrocketed. Conversely, we can track these types of incidents in 2016 and beyond to evaluate how potentially increasing manpower are improving NOPD’s performance.
It is important to understand the costs of decreased manpower beyond just increased response times. Even more importantly, we can apply these analytic methodologies going forward to figure out what is working, what isn’t working and why.
Call waiting series recap
This post was previously published by The New Orleans Advocate.