Desk duty drags down police response time 

Police officers average about an hour to respond to nonemergency crimes such as stolen vehicles, fraud and grand theft, according to a new report that suggests civilians could reduce the wait time for crime victims.

The effort to hire civilians to take over desk jobs and put officers on the streets has been an ongoing struggle at the Police Department for years. An independent study of the SFPD, commissioned by The City in 2008, said San Francisco has a large number of officers performing mundane tasks who should be out walking the streets.

Civilian employees could help reduce more than 500 calls that are canceled by the Police Department every year, according to the city controller. Currently, the average time between when a dispatcher picks up a call and when an officer arrives is 56 minutes for calls that are classified as “priority C.”

Those types of crimes are the lowest level of priority for the Police Department, according to Lt. Lyn Tomioka. There’s no emergency, there’s no injury and there’s no suspect at the scene. The officer will get there when possible.

But among those calls, most carry response times of 45 minutes or more. Of 3,863 burglaries reported, for example, victims had to wait 57 minutes for an officer to respond. Stolen vehicles and auto break-ins took 47 and 46 minutes, respectively, on average.

Some of the numbers in the report are deceiving, Tomioka said. While the report shows that police took an average of 95 minutes to respond to 10 cutting or stabbing incidents, police would never take that long if there was anyone in danger or a suspect was still there.

Some police districts, such as the Bayview and the Mission, have so many calls for service that the wait times can be even longer than districts where there are fewer crimes, such as the Richmond, Tomioka said.

But the report still makes the case for adding non-sworn officers to the payroll. Such civilian positions are less expensive because the salaries are lower than sworn officers and they require less training.

There are currently 77 positions handled by civilians, but the report suggests there could be as many as 305.

“Anything that’s going to put more uniformed cops on the street to pick up these calls, that’s something we’re going to look at,” Tomioka said.

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Brent Begin

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