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Police reorg brought faster response

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Reorganizing Rochester's police department improved response time and reduced overtime costs: That's the finding of a new study by the Center for Governmental Research, a draft of which was obtained by City Newspaper.

The reorganization was carried out by former Police Chief Bob Duffy, and it has become an issue in the Democratic primary campaign for mayor. Two of Duffy's Democratic opponents, City Council members Wade Norwood and Tim Mains, have criticized the reorganization. Residents, they say, are complaining that response time is longer and that they have lost the personal contact with police officers that they had under the old structure.

Until June 2004, the police department was organized in seven sections. But officers in high-crime areas had far more calls for service than those in low-crime areas. That resulted in lengthy response delays when officers were tied up on other calls. Those delays, says the CGR report, were one of the most serious issues facing the police department.

In addition, the department was experiencing large overtime costs, due to staffing shortages in the high-need areas. Faced with increasing budget constraints, police department officials asked CGR to determine whether a different patrol structure could improve service.

For a study released in March 2003, CGR considered three different options for reorganization: compressing the seven sections into five, four, and two sections. CGR's conclusion: Two sections would provide "the greatest flexibility to best match resources with demand."

"Moving to this model," said the 2003 report, "will clearly allow the RPD to provide faster response to calls for service during periods of peak demand."

CGR predicted that under the new structure, response time would drop and work load would be more evenly borne by officers and sections.

The reorganization was implemented in June 2004. In the spring of 2005, the police department asked CGR to assess its effects, based on about six months of data. Here's what the new study found:

  • Response time has improved. CGR compared the 11 months before the reorganization with the 11 months after. It found that "wait time" --- the time between a 911 dispatcher taking a call for service and the dispatcher finding a police car able to respond --- has improved by an average of 17.3 percent. That's because more cars are available to respond to calls.
  • "Travel time" --- the time between the officer receiving the call from 911 and arriving at the scene of the call --- has increased by 10.5 percent. Although 911 dispatchers identify officers closest to the scene, officers may drive a longer distance than previously, because the police sections are larger.
  • Overall, however, "response time" --- from the 911 dispatcher receiving the call to the officer arriving at the scene of the call --- has improved "significantly," says the CGR study. Responses are 8 percent faster for high-priority calls, 19 percent faster for "Priority 2" calls, and 10 percent faster for "Priority 3 and 4" calls.
  • Work loads, among the sections and among officers, are more equal.
  • Overtime costs have been reduced. Overtime pay dropped by 29 percent, but the CGR report cautions that it's impossible to tell how much of that is due to the reorganization. During the summer of 2003, before reorganization, "there were several initiatives within the RPD that could have driven overtime costs higher than normal," says the report. CGR seems confident that at least $250,000 could be attributed directly to the reorganization, however.

What the study didn't measure:

  • Whether crime dropped as a result of the reorganization. Crime in Rochester has dropped, but at about the same rate as in Buffalo, Syracuse, and Albany. CGR's conclusion: "the reorganization does not appear to have had either a positive or negative impact on the overall crime rate."
  • How the reorganization affected "community policing." This has been a major criticism of the plan during the mayoral campaign. Both Mains and Norwood say numerous residents have told them that they don't know the police officers patrolling their neighborhoods as well as they once did. And officers have complained about longer travel time and lack of familiarity with their beats. CGR did not study those issues prior to the 2003 study, so there is no benchmark against which to measure the reorganization.

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