LONDON, ONT. -- Police response times are suffering in London as officers face increasingly complex calls for help.

On Thursday, the London Police Services Board received the 2020 Annual Report on policing, including average response times to 911 calls.

The highest priority calls (Code 1), life-threatening emergencies, now take an average of nine minutes between calling 911 and the arrival of a police officer.

Urgent calls of a non-life-threatening crime in progress now takes two hours and 44 minutes on average, and the response to non-urgent calls averages over 13-and-a-half hours.

“That’s very valuable time. Evidence, life and health are at risk,” says Rick Robson on behalf of the London Police Association (LPA), the union that represents officers.

Deputy Chief Stuart Betts told the police board that response times reflect the rising complexity of policing.

“The nature of the calls has changed,” explained Betts. “The complexity has increased, and it's part of an overall increasing degree of complexity in the justice system.”

Since 2011, the average time spent on each police call has risen 27 per cent, to two hours and 41 minutes.

Volume and time of dispatched calls for service
(Source: 2020 Annual Report to London Police Services Board)

The LPA says the situation is taking a toll on officers.

“Our officers are burning out,” admits Robson. “They cannot continue to go significant call to significant call and continue to have 50 to 100 calls waiting in the queue for them.”

The nine-minute response for “lights and siren” emergency calls represents the time between a 911 call is placed and an officer arriving on scene, including two minutes and thirty-five seconds (average) that the caller speaks to an operator before police are dispatched.

2020 London police response times
(Source: 2020 Annual Report to London Police Services Board)

Unlike fire and ambulance service, there is no target for police response times.

Betts says in part that’s because police are dispatched from vehicles in the field rather than neighbourhood stations.

Betts and Robson agree that speeding up response times will require system-wide change.

“Unless there is a change from police being the front line for mental health and other social ills, the only other answer is more resources,” says Robson.

“Quite frankly, adding more officers will make an impact, but it won’t make a defining impact,” explains Betts. “There are more things we can do like adding technology that will allow us to be in the right place at the right times.”