Police commissioner wants answers on response times

George Hunter
The Detroit News
Police commissioner Willie Burton.

The issue of "two Detroits" is being raised by a Detroit police commissioner who wants Chief James Craig to answer questions about how quickly officers respond to emergency calls in the city's affluent and poorer neighborhoods. 

Commissioner Willie Burton sent a memo last week to fellow members of the Board of Police Commissioners asking the board to call in Craig to discuss a Jan. 25 article posted on the website Deadline Detroit that claims police are slower to respond to crimes committed in the city's low-income communities.

Police officials say the story is inaccurate, and insist officer deployment decisions are based on crime data, not income.

Burton read his memo aloud at the Jan. 31 board meeting:

Detroit Police Chief James Craig

"For years Detroit residents have expressed their concerns pertaining to slow response times by the Detroit Police. We often hear Detroiters shouting that there are two Detroits, and now the statistics compiled and presented by (the article) support this characterization," Burton wrote.

"Specifically (the article shows) that there are two tiers of response times: Detroit Police respond more slowly to calls from communities with a per capita income of $17,000 or less; while they respond much more quickly to calls from Downtown and Midtown," Burton wrote.

"This is our time to give the people ... the speedy service they deserve, and to provide them with accurate data," Burton's memo said. "Response times can make the difference between life and death."

After Burton read his memo, assistant police chief James White addressed the board, saying: "I emphatically reject the mischaracterization of that report. I have spent a number of hours reviewing every aspect of that report, and to be candid, I think it’s irresponsible for anyone to present that report as factual. It is not.

"It's no secret that in certain areas of the city, the resource drain is higher than in other areas of the city, and that could have an economic nexus," White told the board. "But we don’t measure the economics of a community before we decide to move resources to that community."

White said the decision of how many officers to deploy to an area is made every 28 days, based on the number of calls for service.

"We put cops on dots; if the dots say we need more cops, that’s where we add cops," he said before inviting the board to tour the department's data-gathering operation. White added he would submit the in-house response time report upon request.

Burton also addressed in his memo an emergency call placed last year by a resident of the Parkview Place senior apartment building at 1401 Chene.

"The call concerned an elderly woman being sexually assaulted outside her residence," the memo said. "Seniors at 1401 Chene are afraid for their lives and wish police would arrive at their senior building as quickly as they do for residents of more affluent communities." 

Katherine Richardson, 66, president of the Parkview Place Tenant Council, told the board it took police 28 minutes to respond to her call about the assault.

"I personally called ... the lady was sexually assaulted in my building," she said. "When (police) come, some of them have the audacity to tell us they was told not to respond. So can't nobody ... tell these people in here that I’m lying about the time that the police officer does arrive at those incidents.

"Seniors have just as much right to respect as someone making $150,000 a year … and I do demand respect," Richardson said before a captain met with her to discuss her concerns.

Craig told The Detroit News the Deadline Detroit article is "factually incorrect."

"The article also doesn't take into account that the poorest neighborhoods also have the most crime, which means more runs, which take longer," Craig said. "The claims made in this story just aren't true."

Craig said he would be happy to answer any questions the police board has about the issue, but board chairman Willie Bell told The News he won't ask the chief to discuss the allegations made in the article.

"I was satisfied that Assistant Chief White answered all the questions at the board meeting, and the claims made in that article on Deadline Detroit," Bell said. 

But Burton told The News he still wants Craig to come to a board meeting to answer questions about response time.

"I’m not satisfied with AC White's answers," Burton said. "I don’t think he really answered my questions; I think he danced around the issues that were laid out in the story."

The article, written by former Detroit News reporter Charlie LeDuff and former Detroit Free Press reporter Steve Neavling, says they analyzed nearly 1 million police dispatch records and found "a stark contrast" between response times in poor and affluent neighborhoods.

LeDuff told The News he obtained the statistics cited in the story from the city's online Data Portal and "from an inside police source."

"I stand by the article," LeDuff said. "It's from the police department's own data."

The authors said their analysis found the average response time in 2018 for priority one calls was 14 minutes, 18 seconds, up from 13 minutes, 12 seconds in 2017. The article said the average response time for priority two calls in 2018 was 54 minutes, 42 seconds.

Priority one calls are those in which someone is in "imminent danger," while priority two calls are for serious crimes that don't involve an immediate threat to anyone.

White told The News that as of Friday, the average response for priority one calls was about 13 minutes; while priority 2 runs averaged 33 minutes.

Some police response times listed in the city's Data Portal are inexplicable. For instance, 38 cases listed have negative response times. 

White said the department doesn't use the Data Portal for crime analysis because the information is preliminary, as stated in the disclaimer, which says: "The Detroit Police Department does not guarantee ... the accuracy, completeness, timeliness, or correct sequencing of the information and the information should not be used for comparison purposes over time."

"The bottom line is, we constantly analyze the data to see where the crime hot spots are that need our attention," Craig said. "That has nothing to do with the residents' income. Income is never a factor."

Burton said after last week's meeting, he sent an email to the board reiterating the questions in his memo.

"I’m going to keep pushing this issue," Burton said. "People keep asking me about response times. When you call the police for an emergency, they shouldn’t be rolling in 40 minutes later."

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN