Police Response Times–Good Measure or Comparing Apples to Chairs?

So-called response times to 911 calls are a staple of law-enforcement measurement and are wielded by politicians as evidence of the success of their police initiatives or the failure of their rivals, says Wall Street Journal columnist Carl Bialik. Some police chiefs and law enforcement experts say they don't say much about police success besides how fast they can drive, and response times don't even do a good job of measuring that, because of inconsistencies in how local departments define the measure.

Response times made news when Detroit's emergency manager Kevyn Orr cited poor response times by police as one reason the city needed to declare bankruptcy. Detroit Police Chief James Craig says the case isn't so straightforward because the city categorizes far more calls as high-priority than do other cities. There isn't a true standard for measuring response time, and departments define emergency cases differently. “It's very, very tough to compare,” said Nahanni Pollard of Douglas College in British Columbia. “They're comparing apples to chairs.”

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