When emergencies come up, it’s comforting to know that first responders are typically only a few minutes away, regardless of where you are in the city. But since every minute counts in these instances, we decided to take a look at average police response times in a number of big cities throughout the US.
Response times differ from city to city based on factors like city population, police funding, and available resources in a given region. When it comes to Priority 1 calls––the highest-priority emergencies that usually include life-threatening emergencies or dangerous active crimes—the difference between a five-minute and 10-minute response time can make all the difference.
How police dispatch works
A lot happens between the moment you dial 911 and the police arriving at your location. As soon as you make the call, you’ll connect to the nearest dispatch center (also known as a public-safety answering point or PSAP). If you’re calling from one place for an emergency somewhere else, say a family emergency in another state, local dispatchers can help put you in touch with the right PSAP.
From there, the PSAP gathers information over the phone as they contact local authorities, all of which happens in a matter of minutes. To get a more exact look at how long the dispatch process takes, we gathered data across some of the biggest cities in the US.
How are 911 calls prioritized?
Most police departments use at least three levels of prioritization to make sure the biggest emergencies are addressed before the less urgent calls. As mentioned, Priority 1 calls can include some kind of dangerous, in-progress crime that requires immediate response. Or they can be life-threatening injuries where every minute can mean the difference between life or death for the people involved.
Lower-priority calls are usually far less urgent and might include things like reporting stolen goods, traffic and parking disputes, and other less dire matters.
Average police response times
How long does it actually take from the time you dial 911 for the police to arrive? It turns out that varies widely based on where you live. Most cities aim for an average response time of about five to six minutes, but the data shows that’s more of a goal than a reality in a lot of US cities.
|Rank||City||Population||Average police response time (minutes)|
|1||San Francisco, CA||884,363||5.46|
|3||Los Angeles, CA||3,999,759||6.1|
|4||New York City, NY||8,622,698||6.69|
|5||San Antonio, TX||1,511,946||6.88|
|9||San Jose, CA||1,035,317||9.2|
|10||Fort Worth, TX||874,168||9.5|
|City||Population||Average police response time (minutes)|
|San Francisco, CA||884,363||5.46|
|Los Angeles, CA||3,999,759||6.1|
|New York City, NY||8,622,698||6.69|
|San Antonio, TX||1,511,946||6.88|
|San Jose, CA||1,035,317||9.2|
|Fort Worth, TX||874,168||9.5|
Note: The above cities were chosen due to the availability of police response data. A handful of larger cities were left out due to a lack of available information.
San Francisco responds the quickest
Of the largest cities that provided police response data, San Francisco tops the list with an average response time of 5.46 minutes. That’s almost twice as fast as cities like San Jose and Fort Worth. Not only that, but San Francisco is aiming to improve its police response times to four minutes.
It’s not about population size
As you might have gleaned from the table, police response times don’t correlate with population size. New York City is by far the largest city on the list, but it falls in the middle of the pack with an average response time of 6.69 minutes. San Francisco and Fort Worth are pretty similar in size but had more than a four-minute difference in average police response.
Population growth might have a bigger influence on police response times
While population size itself might not have a major impact on police response times, it makes more sense that population growth rates might. Cities like Fort Worth and Austin are among the fastest-growing cities in the country. It’s possible that rapidly growing cities simply outpace police departments and their ability to scale their resources to accommodate these rising populations.
What is the average police response time?
It’s hard to give an accurate average when it comes to police response times. On a city level, averages range widely, as you see in the data above. But one consistent factor is that most cities aim to maintain an average response time of around five to six minutes for their highest-priority calls.
What can you do to help improve police response times?
If you live in a city with slower-than-average police response times there are a few ways you can get involved to help make a difference.
Law enforcement agencies often seek feedback and surveys from community members which help inform them as to how they can better serve their communities.
You can also start attending community meetings and local town halls to get more involved in local decisions that impact law enforcement funding.
ASecureLife pulled each city’s respective data from its own government-managed website. Since each city operates independently, data sources varied. Some reports were taken straight from city audit reports, while others were aggregated from weekly reports published through open data portals. Our averages were pulled from the most recent data available.
The minute values above represent the time from when 911 was dialed to when a police officer arrived on the scene. The calls were all high-priority calls where time was of the essence.
- City & County of San Francisco, “San Francisco Performance Results for Fiscal Year 2017-18“
- Forbes, America’s Fastest Growing Cities 2018
- NYC 911 Reporting, “Response Time Trends“
- NBC Los Angeles, “LAPD Pulling Out of LAX Narcotics Task Force as It Works to Boost Patrols“
- Houston Police Department, “Monthly Operational Summary: October 2018“
- San Antonio Police Department, “Proposed Operating and Capital Budget“
- Dallas 365, “Reduce the Response Time for Dispatched Priority 1 Calls to 480 Seconds by September 2018“
- San Jose Police Department, “Annual Report on City Services 2017–18“
- AustinTexas.gov, “ePerformance Measures“
- KOMO News, “6 Hours? 10 Hours? Some Have Waited That Long for an SPD Officer to Respond“
- Seattle Police Department, “Calls for Service Dashboard“
- FortWorthTexas.gov, “Adopted Annual Budget and Program Objectives“