U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Response Time - What's the Rush?

NCJ Number
Law and Order Volume: 29 Issue: 11 Dated: (November 1981) Pages: 24-27,29
J H Auten
Date Published
5 pages
This article examines commonly held assumptions regarding the benefits of rapid police response, problems stemming from this policy, and ways to overcome the disadvantages of typical response systems.
Today the police officer answers an estimated 70 to 80 percent of calls which are neither criminal nor directly related to law enforcement. However, the public continues to base its satisfaction with police services on response time, largely because it increases feelings of security and is thought to deter crime. Several studies have established that if the police take less than 5 minutes to respond to a call involving crime, the probability of making an arrest is 60 percent. When the time exceeds 5 minutes, the arrest probability drops to approximately 20 percent. These findings assume that police have been promptly notified of the crime and no delays occur in the reporting, dispatching, responding continuum. Police departments have taken steps to ensure that delays do not occur in areas over which they have control, but most citizens delay calling the police to the point that the value of a rapid response time is negated. Research has shown that the median delay for citizen reporting is 10 minutes and that almost three-quarters of calls relating to crimes are delayed beyond the 5-minute figure. Gearing a police operation to rapid response causes it to assume a reactive position which reduces a patrol officer's motivation to employ proactive tactics. Other disadvantages include using response time to evaluate police operations and basing patrol beat designs solely on unit travel times. Methods to overcome these problems are suggested, such as requiring rapid response time only for crime in progress and medical emergencies and educating the public about the consequences of delays in reporting. A priority system should be established for police calls, and paraprofessionals could handle calls that do not require a sworn police officer. Reduction in crime, not rapid response time, is the real indicator of police efficiency.