11 CALL FOR ACTION INVESTIGATES: CSPD response times going up as number of officers going down

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - When you call 911, you expect help to show up almost immediately. But in one Colorado Springs neighborhood, it took police so long to show up, more people became victims. 11 News spoke to a woman who witnessed it all happen.

"I went over and I had 911 on the phone and told them that there was just a burglary at the house ... I told them these guys are walking down the street carrying guns," she told reporter Kyla Galer.

The neighbor didn't want to use her real name, but she says she saw two men break into a neighbor's home and steal their guns. She says she and her son called 911, but police told her to call the non-emergency line.

Time passed and she didn't see any police officers. Meanwhile, she says she was worried about the elderly couple who lives in the home.

"I don't know if it's loaded -- what if they have shot somebody? These guys just burglarized a house. They're going to do anything to get away."

She ended up waiting more than an hour for police. During that time, the suspects carjacked someone else using those stolen rifles and got away.

"If the police showed up quicker we would have known she was safe, and the police would have caught them before they snatched a car."

Galer checked the call times. Police tell her the first 911 call came in at 5:33 p.m. It wasn't until one hour and three minutes later -- at 6:36 p.m. -- the first two units responded.

Jeff Coat was one of the Colorado Springs Sergeants to respond that day.

"It's really sad ... we have a city of 200 square miles, over 400,000 population and the police just can't be everywhere at once," he told 11 News.

That's why this problem isn't unique to this particular neighborhood -- it's citywide. Galer sat down with Colorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey, who says it's a problem they've been dealing with for some time.

"At 684 officers we're really, really busy. Compared to other cities in Colorado and the nation, we're significantly behind," Carey said.

Right now, 12 minutes is the average response time for CSPD. That's much quicker than the neighbor waited, but to Chief Carey it's still not quick enough.

"I'd feel a lot more comfortable if the average time on 911 emergency call[s] would be around eight minutes or so for the first officer to get on scene."

The chief says it's getting harder to keep up as the city and its crime grow while the department does not.

"It's been a busy, busy year for homicides, which is pretty tragic."

On top of that, Carey says they're losing more than four officers a month, which he says is extreme.

"There's a growing number of officers for family reasons or for other reasons don't want to do police work anymore. And then there's a number of police officers that are leaving for higher-paying law enforcement jobs."

Losing 50 officers just this year alone, Carey tells Galer he had no choice but to take officers off specialized units, like some of the gang detectives, and put them back on patrol. That shaved two minutes off their response times.

Minutes aside, the chief points out more patrol officers are needed not just to protect the community, but each other.

"What you commonly hear on the radio on any given day and especially at nighttime is officers that are dispatched fairly quickly to an emergency call, a 911 call, and then trick because finding a second officer to cover that officer and to do it safely."

When asked if he worries about his officers, Carey says he thinks about them "just about every minute of every day."

"I think about that and I think about the impact on the community," he continued.

A community that expects officers to be there fast when there's danger.

As for the woman who witnessed the break-in, she says grateful it wasn't worse.

"It changed everybody's life. Now at nighttime we sleep with our doors shut and locked and watch each other's houses," she said.

Police did eventually make two arrests in the burglary. Carey says he needs 100 more officers on the force to have a fighting chance.

For now, he's asking Colorado Springs City Council for 10 more.