Late last year, a man was assaulted by two people after walking out of the Family Dollar on Patterson road in Dayton. His attackers left pretty quickly, and the staff at family dollar called 911.
“We kept calling them and calling them, hoping they would come faster,” says Jennifer, the store manager. “He could have had a concussion. He could have passed out. He was bleeding too.”
The victim also called 911. He told the operator that someone tried to kill him but initially he said he did not need an ambulance.
“Police will be on their way” the operator told him. “Stay there. Don’t leave.”
He waited at the Family Dollar an hour and 15 minutes before calling back and saying that he did need medical attention. Dispatch updated this information and that is when the police and an ambulance finally headed to the scene. All told, it took police an hour and a half to respond.
Dayton resident Ruthann Gray had stopped by the Family Dollar that day just as the police and the ambulance were leaving. She was so disturbed to hear how long it took for police to get there that she reached out to WYSO Curious.
“Why are Dayton Police so slow to respond?” Ruthann wanted to know.
There were no crews available
Captain Matt Haines from the regional dispatch center says one minute after receiving the first 911 call from the Family Dollar, they broadcast it out to Dayton Police, but there were no crews available to respond. The center dispatches to 16 police departments across Montgomery County.
“In certain jurisdictions,” Haines says, “there are times that...the number of calls for service are more than the number of available crews to respond to those incidents.”
And Dayton is frequently the system that’s the most overwhelmed, he says. “Dayton is the busiest area that we dispatch for.”
But Captain Haines explains that dispatch prioritizes calls for police on a scale of one through nine. If you are in a life or death emergency, priority one and two calls, Haines says dispatch will find an officer to respond straight away, even in their busiest jurisdiction.
Ruthann Gray, who asked WYSO to investigate this situation, says she’d assumed police have a priority system. But, she feels that an hour and a half to respond to an assault call is too long to wait.
“It is hard to gauge how long you could wait.”
Dayton Police Chief Biehl says that Dayton police are not slow to respond, their records back him up.
For priority one calls, things like stabbings, shootings, and robberies in progress, their average response time is less than five minutes. The incident at the Family Dollar was classified as a priority four, because the assailant had already left and there was no longer an immediate threat. Their average response time for a priority four call is around 26 minutes. By their response records, it does appear that this was an exceptionally long wait time.
“It is hard to gauge how long you could wait,” Chief Biehl explains. “You could have a robbery and a shooting. That is going to take a lot of resources that cannot be deployed for calls of lesser urgency, so if there is something like that happening at that time, then people are going to wait longer.”
Chief Biehl also says response times have little to do with preventing or solving crime because in many cases, police are called to the scene after the event. The burglar may have left your house hours before you came home and called 911.
“Everyone the police meet, this is their worst day ever”
With this new information, WYSO Curious asked Ruthann Gray whether she felt any more confident with Dayton police.
“Everyone the police meet,” Ruthann says, “this is their worst day ever.”
She says that people may not realize that their call is a lower priority. She say’s she has heard too many stories of people waiting anxiously for police—their reputation as being slow still follows them.
“I feel like the place to start is educating the community, so that, when that time happens to somebody, they realize that this is not a high priority,” she says.
She’d like the 911 operator to actually tell you your priority number and give an estimated wait time. She says the more informed people are, the more satisfied they will be.
WYSO Curious is our series driven by your questions and curiosities about the Miami Valley. Is there something you’ve always wondered about the Miami Valley’s history, people, culture, economy, politics or environment? Send in a question now, and check back to see which questions we’re considering. WYSO Curious is a partner of Hearken, founded by Jennifer Brandel.