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How San Diego reports the Police Department’s performance to the public today is substantially simpler than it was two decades ago.

The city’s annual budget used to measure neighborhood involvement, community satisfaction and many other metrics of a police officer’s job. Today, just two metrics remain: crime rates and response times.

When the mayor and council members talk about cutting or growing the Police Department’s budget each year, they more often talk about the impact to crime rates and response times than anything else.

As Bill Lansdowne has molded the Police Department since he became police chief in 2003, he’s also emphasized the value of response times in his decisions. When faced with budget cuts, he’s dismantled community programs and proactive units to spare patrol officers, who handle emergency calls.

Given the importance of these two metrics, I found a new report on police response times especially interesting. For the first time in a decade, response times worsened across every call category last year.

Police assign calls into five different categories of seriousness. The highest level calls involve imminent threat to life while the lowest level calls are considered minor requests like parking violations.

The graphic above highlights how response times changed for the highest priority calls over the last decade. Police say that category explains why response times worsened across all other categories last year.

First, it’s worth noting that response times for the highest priority calls are still better than a decade ago when police had hundreds more officers and handled more calls. The gradual uptick in the last two years is what appears more concerning.

At a City Council meeting last month, police said a spike in emergency calls stressed available resources and caused officers’ responses to less serious calls to take longer. Last year, police responded to more emergency calls than any other year in the past decade.

Police said the total number of 911 calls they received increased slightly last year, but also reported responding to the lowest number of calls in the past decade. Many calls, Asst. Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said at the council meeting, are informational in nature and don’t require an officer to respond.

Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He writes about local government, creates infographics and handles the Fact Check Blog. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668. You can also find him on Twitter (@keegankyle) and Facebook.

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