How changing your department’s culture and embracing technology can improve response times
Since staffing levels won’t dramatically rise in the near future, changes in both focus and technology to improve response times are required.
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This article is based on research conducted as a part of the CA POST Command College. It is a futures study of a particular emerging issue of relevance to law enforcement. Its purpose is not to predict the future; rather, to project a variety of possible scenarios useful for planning and action in anticipation of the emerging landscape facing policing organizations.
The article was created using the futures forecasting process of Command College and its outcomes. Managing the future means influencing it – creating, constraining and adapting to emerging trends and events in a way that optimizes the opportunities and minimizes the threats of relevance to the profession.
- Urban population growth and staffing issues have led to increased response times for police departments in major U.S. cities.
- Traditional police culture needs to change to prioritize decreasing response times and embracing technology to build trust with communities.
- Technology such as autonomous drones, Live911 and GPS/RFID tracking can help reduce response times and improve overall customer satisfaction.
- Concerns about privacy and government overreach need to be addressed, but integrating these technologies is crucial for enhancing public trust and satisfaction.
By Lieutenant Les Galer
How can your department not only maintain but improve its response times despite urban population growth and diminished staffing levels? Is traditional “police culture” hindering your agency's efforts to decrease response times and better serve their communities?
Modern urban police departments need to create a multi-faceted culture change while embracing technology designed to help decrease response times. By doing so police departments create a foundation from which to help build trust with the communities they serve.
Urban growth increasing response times
Urban cities are growing with mixed-use housing in population-dense areas a trend certain to create obstacles for police departments to maintain effective response times. Technology and a culture shift are the mechanisms to leverage a reduction in response times in our country's increasingly populous urban cities.
In a recent study done in January 2023, 15 major U.S. cities cited a significant increase in their response times in 2022. The New York Police Department’s average response time went from 18 minutes to 33 minutes; the New Orleans Police Department saw an astronomical average response time increase from 51 minutes to 146 minutes.  This widening gap in responding to persons in need detracts from two of the core elements of policing – consistency and trust. Both are most often established through reliable response times to the community, so community members see that the police are there when they are needed.
Several factors are cited for increasing response times, most notably staffing issues that have wreaked havoc on police agencies nationwide.  With plummeting staffing levels due to COVID-19, the fallout from the George Floyd protests and the failed “Defund the Police” movement, departments have been forced to not do more with less but create ways to do only the essentials with less.
In Police1’s third annual State of the Industry survey, officers were asked if they had seen direct impacts of low staffing at their respective agencies. Of 4,141 respondents, 76% indicated they strongly agreed that low staffing had impacted their agencies. Survey results additionally show nearly 50% of officers felt that their response times have increased when responding to high-priority calls service because of short staffing.
Given these current sentiments of working police officers, police departments who mistake this opportunity as an obstacle will miss their chance to change policing for the better. By changing traditional police culture as it relates to how police respond and adopting new technologies like autonomous drone programs, Live911 and GPS/RFID technologies, urban police departments can and will increase their response times resulting in greater community support and satisfaction.
The traditional police culture of customer service vs. customer satisfaction
Culture can be defined as “a way of life of a group of people, the behaviors, beliefs, values and symbols that they accept.”  When law enforcement changes its behavior to create more efficient ways to respond to calls for service, it is effectively changing its culture. A component of building trust is showing your ability to adapt to the wants and needs of others. Improving response times is a sign of adaptation to the new reality. Since staffing levels won’t dramatically rise in the near future, changes in both focus and technology to improve response times are required.
Some may say policing has too much to do, and too few resources to change. Innovation, however, is done best when your back is against a wall. True innovators thrive when the deck is stacked. It is time to think beyond today or even tomorrow and start to shape a police culture that strives to serve communities years down the road. The first step is to devote effort to innovate in customer satisfaction.
As a profession, our service paradigm has been more about customer service than customer satisfaction. Of course, customer service is an important concept to embrace, but today’s modern online life, which prioritizes speed and efficiency, creates an expectation of surface-level satisfaction. When your smartphone or high-speed internet connections slow down, so does our satisfaction with them. The same principles apply to response times – the slower you are at responding, the less satisfied the customer will be.
According to Police1 columnist Chief Joel Schults, “Complaints of poor police response time may be taking a back seat to concerns about other aspects of police conduct but getting to that 911 call in a timely manner can be the best community relations tool of all.” By improving response times, citizens feel a blanket of protection knowing that when and if they call the police, the police will respond efficiently. When response times slip, the opposite relationship occurs.
Let’s look at Buffalo, New York between 2014 and 2020. Response times to burglaries in progress and gun calls slowed by 140% in this 6-year period. At the same time, the average response time to a “shots fired” call was more than 6 minutes in spite of the fact that annual calls for service for “high priority” calls declined by 24%.  In short, residents saw longer response times despite calling the police less. This disparity erodes trust and paints a picture, true or not, that the police are not committed to arriving quickly enough to help them and thus are not committed to their citizenry.
Not arriving in a timely manner only intensifies already-adverse sentiments held by the public toward the police. Recent research has shown a distrust for the current model of policing and police culture.  According to the PEW Research Center, only 26% of Americans say they have a great deal of confidence in the police. Although how quickly the police respond when called has a direct correlation with the public’s level of confidence, the quality of police investigations and how professional officers act toward the public they serve also largely affect the level of confidence communities have in their police departments. The police, then, should devote effort to using the best possible technologies to improve both their speed of response and quality of work when they arrive.
Technology’s pivotal role in response times
Drone technology, Live 911 infrastructure, and tracking technologies such as GPS and RFIP are helping bridge the gap in response times.
The Chula Vista (California) Police Department has been the industry leader in developing drone-driven responses to calls for service since 2018. Chula Vista PD essentially wrote the book on how to utilize drones operated by officers to help reduce crime and increase response times. 
The Louisville (Kentucky) Metro Police Department is placing drones atop streetlights throughout the city to autonomously take off if gunshots ring out. The agency is currently in the process of getting FAA approval to be the first police department to utilize autonomous drones to fly day or night in overpopulated areas.  It would allow drones to be alerted and dispatched to “gunshots” giving real-time data to responding police units. Autonomous drones would dramatically decrease a police department’s response times to gunshot incidents by placing officers' eyes on scene in seconds instead of minutes, allowing police departments to coordinate effective patrol responses.
Another new technology surfacing to improve police response times is Live911, which livestreams emergency calls to officers in the field while pinpointing the caller’s location through GPS. Live911 is currently being tested in several regions of the United States and has shown promising data to improve response times. In Brookhaven, Georgia the police are testing Live911 and are finding that officers arrive in less than a minute to critical calls as a result. Additionally, the Brookhaven Police Department was able to respond rapidly to a suicidal teenager who cut her wrists, whereas the traditional method of dispatch could have produced a far different outcome.
By embracing autonomous drones and Live911, the police have the ability to decrease their response times and garner a certain level of trust and satisfaction from their respective communities.
Mirroring other service industries to increase response times using GPS or RFIP technology
Location technologies also offer promise to improve police customer service. We track our packages and our food deliveries, but a citizen doesn’t know when their officer is going to arrive. Think about this for a moment, the food delivery service person is under more live time scrutiny to get food to a customer than a police officer is to get to a residence to take a police report or handle an emergency.
Radio Frequency Identification Technology (RFID) is being utilized to track packages and other items throughout the country and the world. RFID allows the consumer to locate and track their package throughout its journey. We have all done this when we order something important to us and can relate to how satisfying it is to know your package is safely making its journey.
Global Positioning Systems (GPS) is another technology already being utilized by most police agencies to monitor their units, but not yet so citizens are able to know how long they must wait for an officer to arrive. A police department's relationship with its community would be greatly enhanced if the citizen knew and understood why an officer’s response time can fluctuate, as well as to know how long they were going to wait once they called. Officers would have to account for delays in their responses, which would most certainly include staffing issues and traffic congestion.
The obvious conundrum of GPS is that an element of society would use this technology to plot criminal activity; therefore, the parameters of when a citizen could have access to an officer’s location would have to be established. If these parameters were established with the end goal to be proactive in holding the police more accountable by allowing more transparency.
There are significant arguments to be made for and against this type of technology being implemented; however, in modern times this debate must occur. The days of the police merely saying, “Trust us, we’re doing our best” have come and gone. With the right parameters in place, law enforcement could meet the challenge of responding more quickly with greater transparency.
Despite all the progress and benefits these technologies offer, there are critics who are concerned about privacy and government overreach. Although technology has proven to be a game changer for law enforcement on several fronts, it does come with a level of skepticism from communities. When is too much of something enough?
Research shows citizens have an increased concern with “big brother” issues. Depending on the extent and application of technology developed to allow officers to communicate directly with a citizen, does this become “too close for comfort” for many? Additionally, urban environments where response times are rising are typically more distrusting of police versus residents in rural communities. 
The online publication, www.criminaldefenselawyer.com, cautions residents to be cautious when utilizing smart home technologies to assist with their everyday lives.  These concerns hinder a willingness for some to truly know the appropriate limits of smart devices, so the “Big Brother” argument may be strong for the foreseeable future. Despite privacy concerns, though, it is essential for police departments to integrate autonomous drone technology, Live911 and GPS/RFIP technology into their daily operations. They are essential to reduce police response times, a key critical goal to enhance public trust and customer satisfaction.
With growing populations in urban areas and decreases in policing staffing, there has never been a more critical time to consider how to effectively maintain response times while leveraging advancements in technology and embracing change in police culture. By assessing how we respond to calls and asking tough questions like how effective are traditional methods, the profession is able to prepare for a future of great urban populations, which will only make maintaining adequate response times that much more challenging.
Investing in the specific technologies outlined in this article and embracing tactics employed by other service industries will help law enforcement achieve better response times and overall customer satisfaction. Being open-minded about what works in these industries and how specific tactics can be implemented in policing makes our profession relatable to the public. When you are relatable, trust is easier to achieve.
Change creates change. By reassessing how departments traditionally respond to calls for service, we can embrace the advantages autonomous drones offer, the insight Live911 gives an officer and the transparency provided by GPS/RFID. The question isn’t “Should we?” it’s “Why wouldn’t we?”
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2. Hofstede G. (1997.) Culture.
3. Kelly G. (Dec 7, 2021.) Where’s a cop when you need one?
4. Kiley J, Parker K. (Jan 5, 2022.) Do Americans trust the police?
6. Frey T. (Sept 7, 2022.) Smart Cities Using Streetlight Drones to Track and Respond to Gunshots.
7. Nolo. (July 2, 2019.) Could your ‘Smart House’ be Called as a trial Witness?
About the author
Lieutenant Les Galer has been with the Pittsburg (California) Police Department for the past 21 years. Prior to being hired by the Pittsburg Police Department, Lt. Galer attended the University of California, Davis earning a BA degree in US History. Lt. Galer also has a Master’s Degree in Police Administration from California Coast University and is a graduate of both the POST SLI program and POST Command College. Lt. Galer has worked in numerous assignments over his 21-year career in multiple divisions. As a lieutenant, he managed the Investigations division and served as a Watch Commander and SWAT team commander. Currently, Lt. Les Galer is assigned to the Professional Standards and Training division overseeing the training and hiring for the Pittsburg Police Department.