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Atlanta’s Abysmal Emergency Response Time

On May 5th of this year, at around 2:45 in the afternoon, Jackie Gordon called 911 to report a middle aged man in a yellow jump suit chasing children and exposing himself in Phoenix Park, near Turner Field. She was told that the police were on there way.

Almost an hour later, the police had still not arrived on the scene.

This is because at the same time, there was a fight between two groups of girls on McDaniel Street, and off Cleveland Avenue, a six year old boy was missing after wandering away from his mother at a bus stop. There was also illegal drug activity reported on Boulevard, and a traffic accident on Metropolitan Parkway. With so many calls, the sad fact became immediately apparent: there were not enough police to answer all of the emergency calls at that time.

The 911 operator sent the electronic message to a dispatcher at the Atlanta Police Department promptly after taking Gordon’s information, and there the dispatcher held the call until a unit was available to respond. It took fifty-six minutes and five seconds for the police to respond to a report of a man demanding sex from children.

Nearly an hour after Jackie Gordon’s initial call, and two more calls to 911 later – each met with the same assurances that someone would be coming – an officer finally arrived at Phoenix Park. Gordon pointed out the flasher, who had been “cussing out” her and the children for almost an hour, and he was at last arrested.

This turn of events is not uncommon for the Atlanta Police Department. In fact, they received eighteen calls around the same time as Gordon’s, and the average hold time for those calls was thirty-seven minutes.

In 18 percent of calls between January and July, over 24,000 calls tallied, police dispatchers were unable to assign units to calls forward by 911 within what the department defines as an acceptable response time. That is nearly one in five calls which dispatchers are forced to keep on hold an unacceptably long period of time. Often, by the time police arrive on the scene, the offenders are gone. Sometimes, the victims, too.

Even in the highest priority calls, officers arrive within five minutes only 9 percent of the time.

This situation is the result of a larger problem within the police department, and the city at large. Despite election year promises to the contrary, many police officers complain of never receiving raises, and until the city raised taxes, officers were furloughed half a day each week to keep costs down. This has led to the Atlanta police officers resigning at a rate almost half the national average. Well short of the much hoped for 2,000 member police force, Atlanta’s left with only 1,600 officers. Of that 1,600, only 40 percent are assigned to routine patrol.

“If a person is shot, we’re going to be there right away,” said Police Chief Richard Pennington. “But if your flower pot is stolen off your front porch, we’re not going right away. The police will get there. But because of the backlog and because of not having available resources on the street, it’s going to take a while.”

One has to wonder where protecting children from flashers demanding sex ranks among police priorities.