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Colorado Springs police see an increase in 911 response times

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When Colorado Springs police were alerted to serious crimes in progress last year, 11 minutes and 45 seconds elapsed, on average, before the first officer arrived at the scene.

That's 3 minutes and 45 seconds longer than the department's self-imposed goal for responding to 911 calls for crimes such as violent assault and robbery, according to the department's 2005 annual report. And it's 17 seconds longer than its 2003 response time.

Lt. Rafael Cintron, a police spokesman, says the city's fast-rising population and a tight departmental budget which currently prevents new officers from being hired probably are behind longer response times.

"Although the population of the city is still increasing, we have not been able to hire new officers," he says.

In November 2001, voters approved a 4/10-cent Public Safety Sales Tax, in part to lower police response times. With funds generated from the tax, 87 new officers were placed on the force between 2002 and 2004 and knocked response times down from the 2001 average of 13:30.

But now, says city budget analyst Leslie Hickey, funds from the tax are funneling into the annual salaries and benefits of those same police and fire department officers and civilian personnel. Consequently, just one more officer was added to the 688-officer force last year. And none are expected this year.

"Those funds are starting to disappear," says Hickey, who also serves as liaison to the Public Safety Sales Tax board.

Some $20 million is budgeted to pay for previous public safety hires and their benefits in 2007. To put that into context, the tax has generated $90 million in the five years since collections began.

Dick Hansen, the safety tax board's chairman-elect, could not be reached by deadline.

It is difficult to compare the city's police response time to those of other cities, according to Dennis Hyater of the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc., which accredits Colorado Springs police and numerous other agencies across the nation.

The Virginia-based commission sets no time standard for police response to serious crimes because city-to-city, police forces face unique challenges, geographical and otherwise, that make comparisons practically impossible, Hyater says.

However, Colorado Springs police aim to reach the source of serious crimes in progress within eight minutes. According to Cintron, the department came up with that figure using data from a city survey of the average annual response times in similar-sized city police departments.

Cintron cannot remember a time when city police met the eight-minute standard. The closest he could recall was 1996's average of 8:40.

"I don't know if we've ever been below eight," he says.

There is a positive in the 2005 statistics, however: About 60 percent of the time, police did respond to emergencies within eight minutes.

"That's a good sign," Hickey notes. She adds that projections showed that without the Public Safety Sales Tax, police would have responded within eight minutes only 38 percent of the time in 2005.

deyoanna@csindy.com

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