Denver police chief, union disagree on solution for increase in emergency response times

7 minutes for emergency; 27 minutes non-emergency

DENVER - Denver police response times have increased as fewer officers are on patrol.

Response time for an emergency call is just shy of seven minutes.

"We'd like to get it under six minutes," said Denver Police Chief Robert White.

For non-emergency calls, the wait can be 27 minutes.

Since arriving in Denver in December 2011, White has pushed to put more officers on the street. About 48 percent of all officers were on patrol when White arrived. Now, it's nearly two out of three.

At the start of 2013, White changed the way officers were assigned and scheduled, but instituting a "team policing" concept.

"The goal is to have the same officers work the same hours (and) work the same area so they can become familiar with the community," said White. "In the past, I might have been able to vote for weekends off in an area where I was most needed during the weekends. An officer assigned to a geographic area that requires a lot of police services on Friday and Saturday, very few police officers that are working that area will be off Friday and Saturday."

The Denver Police Protective Association executive board sent a letter to the police chief and Mayor Michael Hancock stating safety concerns about the team policing concept.

"…inevitably, someone will get injured or killed, as a result of the Department’s inability to respond to emergencies in a timely manner," the board wrote.

"What's the push back?" 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger asked White.

"The push back is change. Just one word: change. It's not what we're accustomed to doing," said White. "The members are being asked to do some things that they hadn't done in the past and being held to a higher standard of accountability and they have less flexibility that relates to deciding when they're going to work."

"Everybody knows that change is hard and we're going through a lot of it right now," said DPPA executive board member Bryan O'Neill. "We know that this model is used around the metro area, around the state, around the country, but you have to have the numbers and we don't right now."

Some of the frustration with the police union is the way schedules are handled. Before 2013, officers could request their off days based on seniority every 28 days.

"You had a lot of flexibility in voting your days off as long as your seniority allowed it," said O'Neill.

Under the team policing concept, the schedules are still based on seniority, but they're set once a year.

"How is morale within the department with all of these changes?" asked Zelinger.

"Morale is not good right now," said O'Neill.

In 2008, there were 1,550 Denver police officers. Today, the number is near 1,360.

"With police staffing the way it is today, how do you decrease response time?" asked Zelinger.

"With the current staffing levels, to decrease response times is to get more officers on the streets in a police car, handling calls," said O'Neill.

There are 110 new officers slated for 2013, with 30 almost completed with the training academy.

"The first 30 bodies that are in the academy right now will not be viable police officers on the street until 2014," said O'Neill.

He cautioned that once the first class graduates, they will be on the street in the training officer stage and won't be an extra patrol officer until next year.

"Of these 110, will they all be on patrol?" asked Zelinger.

"Out of the 110, I will tell you 95 percent of those officers will be going to the districts," said White.

The chief also wants to hire 17 civilian employees to take reports on non-emergency calls, thus freeing up more officers to respond to calls immediately.

"That would amount to tens of thousands of hours that officers will not have to take those kinds of reports, (so) that they can be focusing on our community," said White.

He has not yet taken this plan to city council.