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SLC police beef up patrol division to cut response times

(KSL TV)


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SALT LAKE CITY — After KSL Investigators reported on police response times back in April, it became clear the Salt Lake City Police Department's patrol division lacked the manpower it needed to keep up with the number of calls for help.

Similar-sized departments across the country reported a higher percentage of their forces were assigned to patrol, residents were waiting hours for officers to show up, and patrolmen and women were driving all over the city, often without breaks and were burned out.

Racing from "call, to call, to call, to call" had become a model of policing that needed to change.

The heart of any department is its patrol

Patrol officer Jeremy Sayes knew citizens were growing frustrated.

"When they call the police, they want help," Sayes said.

Sayes explained that patrol officers were just as fed up with the system.

In 2015, the Salt Lake City Police Department had a little less than 100 officers assigned to its patrol division. Earlier this year, that number was 125, or approximately 30 percent of its entire force.

Most days, officers would fall 15 or 20 calls behind, sometimes more. And if it wasn't a high priority call, in other words a matter of life or death, residents often had to wait hours for police help.

"It's too long," Sayes said.

Newly appointed Police Chief Mike Brown knew he had to make a shift in how business got done to improve service for residents and improve morale within his patrol division.

"It's not enough, it's not enough, I'm telling you it's not enough," Brown said last April.

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Beefing up patrols

This fall, Brown revamped the department's staffing model and shifted existing positions into patrol. He beefed up the patrol unit from 125 to 175 officers. He has plans to increase that number again, to about 190 within the next few months.

"So what you're seeing is more officers on the street and a quicker response time to priority one calls to the tune of about two minutes," said Brown.

Brown said help is arriving faster and recent data show early signs of a downward trend in crime across the city.

Officers will spend less time driving all over and more time in assigned areas getting to know residents and business owners.

They'll also be able to spend time proactively looking for suspicious activity to prevent crime and reduce the number of victims.

"They were going from Sugar House to Rose Park, to Glendale back to the Avenues," said Brown. "They never had time to spend in their beat."

The shift in philosophy also allows the department to fully implement a data-driven model of policing called Compstat.

The department holds frequent meetings to review a massive analysis of police reports.

If they detect an uptick in vehicle thefts, for example, they can assign more officers to "hot spots" to watch for suspects and warn residents to take precautions.

Sayes said the turnaround makes him feel that the manpower problem is getting resolved.

"It's a good feeling because you know there's going to be plenty of officers on the streets."

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Debbie Dujanovic

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