Split districts blamed
Daniel J. Chacon Journal Staff Writer
(SANTA FE, N.M.) -- Since the Santa Fe Police Department split its force into two districts in July, officers have been responding to emergency calls an average of 57 seconds faster, the department reported.
Response times for priority-one calls, which require immediate police attention, have decreased about 16 percent between July and November compared to the same time period last year.
Although not as significant, other types of calls for service have seen a decrease in response times, too.
"What it means for Santa Fe both for those who live here and those who visit is that the money being put forth for these police initiatives is showing a return value," Deputy Chief of Police Beverly Lennen said Friday. "It also shows our officers are out there working hard toward the goal of a safer community."
On average, officer response to priority-one calls, such as those involving weapons and injury, have dropped from 5 minutes 46 seconds to 4 minutes 49 seconds during the last five months the police force has been split into two sections, Lennen said.
"Fifty-seven seconds could really make a difference," she said. "So the split did work."
In July, the department's patrol division was divided into two districts as part of a five-year plan dubbed Vision 2003, which is designed to meet the challenges of policing in the city.
District 1 encompasses everything south and southwest of St. Michael's Drive and Old Pecos Trail. District 2 is situated north and northeast of St. Michael's Drive.
Each district is assigned 36 police officers and nine commanders, and both districts are separated into three sections to cover three shifts.
The split was meant to reduce response times. Officers are being dispatched primarily to calls within the assigned district, which covers a smaller geographic area that they should become more familiar with through increased contact.
"We still have some work to do, and the reason for that is our goal is to get that (priority-one) response time down to three minutes," Lennen said.
Once that goal is met, the department will try to improve the response times for other types of emergency calls, which also decreased once the force was split, she said.
In priority-two calls, which include all felonies not in progress, the department reported a 21-second decrease in response times. The response times for priority-three calls, such as minor larcenies and minor sex offenses, decreased 30 seconds.
There was a 49-second increase in the less serious priority-four calls, which include calls about loose animals and the need for police escorts during funerals or when a building is being moved.
"It's not like there's a significant reason for cutting a response time in that category," Lennen said. "That is not critical when a house is waiting to be moved."
The department, which continues to pay hefty amounts of overtime because of a staffing shortage, has other plans to cut response times even further. The department is developing a form that will be available throughout the city, possibly on the Internet, for reports that don't have to be filled out by an officer, such as a report of a minor accident for insurance purposes only, Lennen said.
"That way we can follow up on the priority calls and the more major cases," she said.
Additional officers-in-training will assist in decreasing response times once they hit the streets, Lennen said.
"We're still tweaking (the five-year plan), and we'll continue to do so," she said. "That's the whole point."
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