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SALT LAKE CITY — The average call response time by Salt Lake City police officers increased dramatically between the summer of 2019 and the summer of 2020, according to records released Wednesday by the department, largely because of low-priority calls.
The response times increased even though the department said it had more overall patrol officers on staff in 2020 than in 2019, 179 to 164.
The records were provided after an open records request by KSL NewsRadio and included data taken between June 1 and Aug. 31 of 2019 and 2020. The collection period began just days after a major protest-turned-riot downtown that damaged a police vehicle and the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building. That was followed by dozens of peaceful protests in the next days and weeks.
The most modest response time increase came in the highest-priority, or Priority 1, calls. Priority 1 calls had an average response time of 10 minutes and 1 second in summer 2019; that increased to 11 minutes, 30 seconds in 2020.
But Priority 2 calls jumped from 14:43 to 21:03, and Priority 3 calls ballooned from an average response time of 33:25 all the way to 1 hour, 16 minutes and 31 seconds. Overall, that brought up average response times from about 25 minutes to just under 50 minutes in 2020.
Retirements and resignations were on par with normal levels throughout the summer months, when the response time data was collected; however, they've spiked in September and October, largely due to resignations, according to the data compared to the past several years. The department lost 11 officers in September, six to resignations, and eight so far in October — all eight to resignations.
Salt Lake City Deputy Police Chief LaMar Ewell joined the Dave & Dujanovic morning show Wednesday to discuss the response time data. Ewell said on the show that he agreed a 50-minute average response time is "not acceptable."
Ewell said the overall number of patrol officers listed in the report, 179, can be "misleading," and that at times there may be only a handful of patrol officers on a shift. "That (number) may not necessarily take into account the half-dozen or dozen (officers) that are quarantined because of the virus, or on military leave, or maternity leave, which may then drop the numbers," Ewell said.
Ewell said a study conducted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police suggested that Salt Lake City needs 300-plus total officers assigned to patrol. But many officers are on leave for one reason or another, he said, and about 50 officers have resigned, retired, or "separated employment ... for one reason or another" since April 30, which is affecting available patrol staff.
Records provided by the department show 31 officers have retired or resigned since June.
"I look at these numbers," Ewell said, "and really, I'm shocked."
Ewell said he and the department's administration continue to look at the data and will do whatever it can to "bolster the staffing in patrol" and attempt to cut down wait times.
"We as a police department, we look at these numbers," he said. "We did a survey this last year and asked the public what they thought a proper response time would be on an emergency call, and their number came back three to five minutes. So I look at this, it's not acceptable. We're way above that."
Contributing: Debbie Dujanovic, KSL NewsRadio