Image: mostly trueStatement: “We’re getting to calls quicker than ever before,” Police Chief Bill Lansdowne said July 21 at a City Council committee meeting.

Determination: Mostly True

Analysis: The Police Department measures its response times based on five dispatch categories. The higher priority the call, the faster police officers aim to arrive.

At the July meeting, Lansdowne told council members that officers are responding to calls “quicker than ever before.” That might come as a surprise to some voters, since the prospect of deteriorating public safety services has become one of the main arguments behind increasing the city’s sales tax.

We decided to check out the Police Department’s statistics from the last decade as part of this story and see how fast officers responded.

In fact, police have been responding to high priority calls faster than previous years, but responding slower to low priority calls.

High priority calls include life threatening incidents or crimes in progress. Depending on the severity of the call, dispatchers categorize these incidents as E, 1 or 2. They categorize less urgent incidents, such as noise complaints or traffic ticketing, as 3 or 4.

During the first half of 2010, police responded to the top three dispatch categories faster than the first half of any year in the last decade. Three years ago, police responded to the most urgent calls in an average of 7.1 minutes. Through the first half of this year, it’s down to 6.1 minutes.

The top three categories account for the vast majority of dispatched calls. Out of 320,000 calls during the first half of the year, the bottom two categories accounted for 16 percent. Police took longer for low priority categories than the previous two years, but fared better than other years in the last decade.

Here’s a graphic showing the average response times for each dispatch category during the first half each year since 2000. It also defines each dispatch category and shows a narrower window of the most urgent, Priority E calls.

We’ve called Lansdowne’s statement mostly true — rather than true — because the department’s response times aren’t faster across the board. Police have improved their response times for high priority calls, but they’re responding slower to low priority calls.

Why not barely true, misleading or false? We’ve decided to give greater weight to trends surrounding the high priority calls since those incidents account for the vast majority of calls and are most in need of a quick response.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

You can also e-mail new Fact Check suggestions to What claim should we explore next?


Summer Polacek was formerly the Development Manager at Voice of San Diego.

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