Despite an increase in cash and staff, San Jose police are taking longer to respond to calls.
The San Jose Police Department this year has 30 more street-ready officers and nearly $20 million more in its budget compared to last year. It still failed to respond to emergencies on time. When San Joseans call for help, they’re waiting longer than ever — a growing trend since 2018, data from the city auditor shows.
The department is required to respond to calls that present danger to life or major threat of damage or loss of property—known as priority one calls—within six minutes. Officers missed the mark by a minute, responding in an average of 7.3 minutes last year, a 0.2 increase from the previous year. In some places like North San Jose, police took an average of about 9 minutes to respond to priority one calls.
For priority two calls, which include injury or property damage with the suspect still in the area, officers averaged nearly 24 minutes to show up on scene. The goal is 11 minutes. That response time is about two minutes longer than last year, city data shows.
“That is horrible,” Tom Saggau, a spokesperson for the San Jose Police Officers’ Association, told San José Spotlight. “They’re getting destroyed on priority two calls and it’s a matter of bodies.”
Saggau blames staffing shortages for the slow response times. San Jose has one of the smallest police departments of any major U.S. city, with 1,153 sworn officers for a city of more than 1 million residents. The city recently budgeted for 20 more positions. By comparison, San Francisco employs 2,100 sworn officers with a population of about 875,000.
Saggau also attributes slow response times to a spike in police calls.
In the 2020-21 fiscal year, the department responded to 1.2 million calls, of which 611,100 were emergencies. This past year, it received 1.3 million calls, with 646,462 being emergencies. Even though there are more officers on the streets this year, there are fewer people answering emergency calls. There were 106 police dispatchers who answered calls last year. That number is down from 123 the previous year, according to city auditor data.
“When San Jose was meeting its goal of 11 minutes for priority two calls, it was back when there were 1,400 officers,” Saggau said. “So, you see a direct decline year after year in these reports because staffing has just kept going down. Then add on a much higher number of homeless folks that these calls take much more time to solve and a larger population in general.”
The city auditor’s report shows San Jose’s violent crime increased 2% in 2021 from the previous year. Saggau said officers are being asked to do more — including responding to complaints related to homelessness or mental illness — pulling them away from emergencies.
Police Chief Anthony Mata this week told councilmembers his top priority is to hire more officers. Meanwhile, he’s looking to shift police units to better distribute resources and use technology to make the job easier. That includes using automatic license plate readers, expanding a gunshot detection program and helicopters to surveil crimes.
“But it doesn’t matter how we break up the police districts, we need more staff, ” Mata said. “In the interim what we’re going to do is add more officers to those specific police districts that have a higher number (of crimes).”
Saggau said the solution is what police reform activists want: Divert homelessness and mental health calls away from police and to experts better suited to respond to such crises.
Santa Clara County last year launched the 988 line which sends mental health experts to crisis calls but it hasn’t worked as planned. Police still respond to some calls because of mental health expert shortages.
The police union in 2021 asked the city to stop sending officers to 19 types of calls including noise complaints, noncriminal welfare checks, under the influence calls where there is no other crime in progress, service in city parks and reporting an abandoned vehicle.
“We absolutely support alternative responses,” Saggau added. “You’ve got to figure out who is going to respond to these things and you’ve got to build that infrastructure as we go.”
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.