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Anchorage 911 calls stacking up, causing delays

Emergencies get quick response, but many others wait for a day

Posted: Monday, May 29, 2006

ANCHORAGE - Anchorage police and 911 operators estimate that 30 to 40 calls stack up on most nights as people in non-emergency situations wait to see an officer.

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Life-threatening emergencies continue to receive immediate attention but responses to vandalism, burglaries and non-injury car wrecks often are delayed.

A response sometimes takes until the next day. Patrol officers say they are frustrated they cannot respond, that they lack time for police work they want to do, and that a typical night shows a need for more officers.

Dispatchers assign calls based on guidelines that aim to speed police to the scene when someone is in imminent danger or if a crime is in progress.

On one recent Friday night, police responded to stabbings, spousal disputes and stolen vehicles. Calls that fell in the waiting stack included a 12-year-old mentally handicapped boy harassed by a teenager, a black bear crawling up a tree in the backyard of a South Anchorage home, and a loud party that upset neighbors.

It took police one hour and 40 minutes to respond to a call about a 10-year-old boy beaten up by classmates in a South Anchorage park.

On that same night, when the driver of a stolen vehicle fled police, sped the wrong way on Benson Boulevard, crashed head-on into an SUV with a family coming home from church, a dozen patrol vehicles and unmarked cars raced to the intersection.

"It doesn't take much for everyone to get tied up," said Sgt. Lee Rohwer, who is in charge of patrol officers who handle the emergency calls during evening and night hours. "Generally, eventually, (the stacked calls) will get answered at some point."

Anchorage police Sgt. Richard Stouff, who heads the 911 call center, said his operators handle 700,000 to 800,000 calls from 911 and non-emergency lines a year.

In 2004, police were sent to investigate 242,000 of those calls, according to an annual police report. That's about 663 police callouts a day.

Response times for priority calls are less than three minutes, police said.

Deputy Chief Audie Holloway said all calls eventually get answered.

At any one time, about 50 patrol officers are on duty in Anchorage. Police say that's not enough for a city of 280,000.

, especially at night and during the summer when calls for help increase.

John Campbell, an Oregon-based policing consultant, said most police departments advocate 20 to 35 percent of their patrol officers' time for "discretionary policing." That's free time to do proactive police work such as checking out tips and hunches.

But he also said police always say they want more officers, he said.

Campbell said people should focus on crime rates and livability in their cities. On that note, from 1995 to 2004, Anchorage's crime rate has nearly halved, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report.

The Anchorage Assembly authorized about a 25 percent increase in the number of officers, and the department is on track to meet the goal by 2008, Holloway said.

So far, officers have been added to units that address specific offenses, such as crimes against children and sexual assaults. Increasing the numbers on patrol is not likely until next year, Holloway said.

"The problem is, we can't hire them fast enough, and train them fast enough," he said.

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Information from: Anchorage Daily News, http://www.adn.com



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