Is Chief Craig Improving DPD Response By Playing With The Numbers?

Of all the startling numbers reported by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr when he took the city of Detroit into bankruptcy in July, one that caught the attention of the nation -- perhaps even more than Detroit's $18 billion debt -- was how the Detroit Police take an average of 58 minutes to respond to emergency calls, compared with a national average of 11 minutes.

Police Chief James Craig has made improving response times a priority during his two months on the job. 

Earlier this week, Craig said authorities are considering criminal charges against two dispatchers for failing to send officers promptly on 911 calls — including one last month that ended with a woman being shot with an AK 47 and one in May in which a woman was repeatedly stabbed.

“Status quo, complacency, mediocrity will not be tolerated,” said Craig, who also demoted Cmdr. Todd Bettison, the head of the Police Department’s communications section.

On Friday, Craif was interviewed by Jim Kiertzner of WXYZ-TV about response times, and Kiertzner pressed Craig about how the department is computing responses. 

Craig said reponse times are "improving because we're paying attention to it, we've put new processes in place, we're taking what I call a 'deep-tissue dive' into it...We are making some robust changes to the entire communications."

Craig has a special assistant, from the state, who has DPD and dispatch experience, and next weekend the department is launching a program in which a command officer will be in the field on nights and weekends, monitoring response times and other matters.

Kiertzner asked: "Does the clock star when the call comes in or when a unit is dispatched? That can be a huge difference, as we saw this week. Some people can wait an hour or two before a car is even dispatched. Why not start that clock when they call in?

Craig responded: "The clock technically does start, but what we're rated on, and again, I said we want to adhere to a best practices used in other places, when that officer gets that call, that response unit, the clock starts. The clock stops when they arrive at the scene.

Kiertzner: "But if that's going to be the time of record, isn't that disingenuous? Isn't that dishonest with the community?"

(Craig objects)

Kiertzner asked if he calls 911, and the police car is not dispatched for an hour, but they arrive at the scene in eight minutes, should the response time be counted as eight minutes -- which is what Craig is saying -- or 68 minutes, which is how long the caller would have waited.

Said Craig: "I disagree with you. I said we're doing to adhere to a best policing practice. However, that's not say when a citizen calls 911, there is a clock that starts, but it should be a simultaneous. But how it should work is that 911 operators, they're taking information, and that information is being pushed to the dispatcher, so what we're looking at now is once it's pushed to the dispatcher, are they sitting on it? So this is why we put new processes in place."

Craig said the new processes being put in place will help response times. 

He mentioned a process called 're-toning," in which scour cars, for example, taking a report will be redirected to a priority call.

This issue surfaced earlier this summer, in a Wall Street Journal article, in which Craig said the department was redoing the way it computes response times. 

-- Bill McGraw

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