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Staffing issues likely cause of overall increase in Columbus police response time

A woman told 10TV she waited four hours for police to respond to an armed carjacking in German Village.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A woman says she was carjacked in a Columbus neighborhood over the summer and it took police several hours to respond. 

Columbus police and the Fraternal Order of Police have said staffing issues contributed to the overall response time to crimes compared to previous years. 

On July 29, Liz was on her way to meet an internship coordinator in German Village. She parked just off High Street near Whittier and Pearl.

Liz asked 10TV to not identify her or use her real name out of fear for her own safety.

“My keys fell apart so I was walking around the block to try to find the rest of my keys. Next thing you know, I'm in an alleyway and a man has a gun to my back asking for my car,” she said.

She immediately called 911 for police help. 

"He pointed a gun at me and told me to get out of the car in this alleyway," Liz told dispatchers in the call.

Then she called her mom.

Her mom rushed to her, then called 911 again to ask where police were.

That 911 call reveals the dispatcher asking Liz’s mom, Denise, "Is she hurt, is she ok?"

Denise responded, "No, she's just traumatized. They pulled a gun on her though."

The dispatcher then said, "I'm going to get some more information. There's a shooting on that precinct. That's why it's taking a minute to get someone to you, but we are going to get someone to you."

“I'm scared, what if he shows up?" Denise recalled. "He's armed. Why aren't the police here, why aren't the police here? I'm panicking.”

“I was in shock. I didn't even know what to do. All I wanted to do was to comply, to just stay safe,” Liz told 10TV Reporter Lacey Crisp.

She says her dad made it to the scene as well, and they ended up finding her car down the street.

“We had it towed back to the house because the police at this point still hadn't shown up,” Liz said.

When asked how long it took for police to respond to her call for help, Liz said, “Probably about four hours.”

Columbus police said the call was downgraded from a Priority 2 to a Priority 3 when the family left the scene.

Columbus police respond to calls using a dispatch priority system that has five levels; Priority 1 calls are the most serious, Priority 5 calls are the least.

Police records show a dispatcher initially classified Liz’s call for help as a Priority 2 call, where calls include felony crimes in progress or crimes that have just occurred. It’s possible the dispatcher didn’t hear a gun was involved.

Even with Liz’s call downgraded, that response time is outside of the 30-minute response time Columbus police suggests to its officers in a Dispatching Priority System document of standard operating procedures for Priority 3 calls.

Priority 1 and 2 calls don’t have a suggested response time, according to Columbus police. 

But, dispatch records show during July 2021, the average response time for Priority 2 calls, what dispatchers initially classified Liz’s call as, was 24 minutes and 15 seconds.

For the most severe calls, the July 2021 response time was 11 minutes and 26 seconds.

What’s concerning, even to Columbus police, is that dispatch data shows the average response time for Priority 1 calls in 2019 was six minutes and five seconds. For Priority 2 calls, it was 15 minutes and 13 seconds.

The average response times have increased more than two minutes for Priority 1 calls and nearly five minutes for Priority 2 calls from 2019 to September 2021.

“There's a lot of different factors that can contribute to that. It's well-known in the city of Columbus our population growth has exploded over the last several years and we have to figure out a way to grow with that population. Unfortunately, our staffing, where it is right now has been stagnant,” Sgt. James Fuqua said when asked about the increased response times.

Fraternal Order of Police Executive Vice President Jeff Simpson said his heart goes out to Liz and her family.

“There are a plethora of issues it could be, but to be direct, it all comes down to police presence, officer staffing, do you have the officers available to do the job?” Simpson said.

He explains Liz's call likely should have been a Priority 1 call, and should have been dispatched immediately.

Simpson said this year alone, through retirements and people leaving, the department is down more than 100 officers.

“You already have a priority run list. When you are running on less, you reprioritize the priorities. Someone is going to pay for that,” Simpson said.

Simpson said as the city and crime problems have grown, the police department has not and this impacts response times.

In 2006, the city's population was about 768,000 and the city had 1822 sworn officers. By July 2016, the city's population had grown to about 860,000 and there were 1846 sworn officers for the Columbus Division of Police.

“No matter how you look at it, we are several hundred officers down overall. I know the new chief, Chief (Elaine) Bryant, has lobbied for more officers. We support her on that,” Simpson said.

Simpson argues until there are more officers on the streets to take calls, more victims will face the same frustration as Liz.

“It's going to continue to occur. It's no different than anything else. You have to have a proper police presence. Police stop crime, police deter crime,” Simpson said.

Denise says she has been discouraged by the traumatizing incident and says she does not have faith police will be there if she needs them again. But she says she doesn't blame the officers.

“I feel discouraged as a person who has been here all my life that supporting our community with law enforcement is not at the highest of the priorities,” Denise said.

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