NYPD response times to incidents remain snagged three months after protests against police spurred long delays — while other emergency responders are getting to the scene faster than before the coronavirus took hold.
That’s the conclusion of THE CITY’s comparison of medical, fire and police response times so far in 2020, a year defined by sudden and intense demands on those rushing to incidents.
Starting in late March and running through mid-May, the COVID-19 pandemic sparked a jump in ambulance calls. Then anti-racism protests that peaked in mid June put the Police Department to the test.
Data from the 911 call system shows that the delays have affected every type of NYPD call, including what police call “critical crime in progress” — encompassing armed violent incidents, robberies and burglaries.
Responses to those incidents — measured from the first call to the arrival of the first unit — took an average of 8 minutes and 5 seconds in the last four weeks of August 2020, compared with 6 minutes and 49 seconds during the same period a year earlier.
Calls of minor crimes typically took 21 minutes and 13 seconds in August of this year to get police to the scene, up from 20 minutes and 44 seconds in August 2019.
At the height of the protests — which began shortly after the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis — police took more than 25 minutes to respond to “critical crime” reports on average in the first week of June, as officers engaged in numerous clashes with demonstrators and 911 calls surged.
That was the slowest police response in the more than six years for which data is available. Overall, it took police 12 minutes and 17 seconds to arrive at reported crimes in progress in June, a four-minute jump from a year earlier.
The slowed response time comes as the NYPD grapples with a spike in shootings — with 1,054 incidents logged on the NYPD’s CompStat this year through Sept. 6, compared to 556 during the same period last year.
A Shrunken Force
Through July and into late August, the most recent data available, police response times remained a minute longer on average than a year ago — a slowing NYPD officials say stems from both fiscal woes and a wave of officer departures following the protests.
“The NYPD’s headcount in recent weeks has diminished significantly due to retirements and the recent budget cuts,” said Sgt. Jessica McRorie, a spokesperson for the NYPD.
COVID, tropical storm Isaias and ongoing demonstrations have all further taxed the force, McRorie added.
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea has repeatedly knocked down allegations that members of the NYPD are deliberately slowing down as a counter-protest to calls to “defund the police” and confrontations with demonstrators.
As of Sept. 2, the NYPD reported it employed 34,701 uniformed officers. For fiscal year 2020, which ended in June, the department was budgeted for 36,178, according to the city’s budget office.
From May 25 through Aug. 31, 1,168 officers retired, 93 resigned and 1,389 filed for retirement, according to the NYPD. During the same period last year, the department logged 671 retirements, 106 resignations and 484 retirement filings.
The NYPD is now grappling with how to do more with less.
A $1 billion budget cut in June prompted the cancellation of two classes of new police recruits and has slashed overtime funding, while moving school safety and homeless monitoring responsibilities to other city agencies.
The Independent Budget Office has predicted that overtime, currently budgeted at $268 million, will exceed that figure by $400 million.
Activist Josmar Trujillo, a member of the Policing & Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College, said, “It’s not as if the standing headcount of the NYPD went down by thousand and thousands of people. To me those cuts were not enough, for a lot of people those cuts were not enough.”
Racing to the Scene
In contrast with the NYPD, Emergency Medical Services, part of the city’s Fire Department, has managed to speed up its response times following a coronavirus crunch.
A jump to more than 6,500 reports per day at the height of the coronavirus, from around 4,000 pre-pandemic, led to an increase in EMS’s response time to all sorts of reports — including life-threatening emergencies such as cardiac arrests.
Medical emergencies that previously took an average of 10 minutes to respond to began to take more than 15 minutes as COVID-19 cases started mushrooming in late March. Non-life threatening incidents, such as pain, vomiting and headaches, took an average of as long as 46 minutes, roughly three times EMS’s prior response time.
While EMTs and paramedics were dealing with an overwhelming call volume, hundreds of emergency responders had to quarantine for 14 days or more if they got exposed to the coronavirus or felt sick. That left the department short-staffed at a time when it needed extra help.
From March to June 18, more than 4,700 firefighters and EMS responders had either contracted or were exposed to the coronavirus, forcing them to stay out, according to an internal document obtained by THE CITY. Four EMTs died of COVID-19 and 4,500 had recovered by June 18.
On that date, the document shows, the FDNY and EMS were short-staffed by 223 and 49 workers, respectively.
At the police department, 4,500 uniformed officers had been reported Covid-19 positive as of June 22 and the protests left about 400 injured, a hundred of whom needed two to three weeks to recover, Commissioner Dermont Shea said at the Attorney General’s public hearing on that date.
“We had over a thousand men and women fall ill from COVID and a few deaths. We had three members commit suicide and countless others seeking PTSD assistance due to the unprecedented death and workload they had,” said Oren Barzilay, president of FDNY EMS Local 2507, a union of uniformed EMTs and paramedics.
He noted that so many medical calls inundated 911 that the city brought in 350 units from elsewhere in the U.S. to assist with the response.
Thanks to that outside support and a 30% decline in weekly 911 calls from their historic coronavirus peaks, the response time recovered from mid-April on as daily COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations started falling.
Since then, EMS has seen its response speed up.
In the last four weeks of August, it took ambulances 9 minutes and 26 seconds to respond to life-threatening emergencies — a half-minute improvement over the same time last year. For less serious emergencies, its response time was faster by three minutes, dropping to 11 minutes and 20 seconds.
A FDNY spokesperson told THE CITY that the Bureau of EMS has not seen a marked increase in staff departures among EMTs, paramedics or officers — with 72 retirements and resignations, compared to 70 during the same period a year ago.
But according to Barzilay’s assessment, at least 200 members in the union have left — some for other city jobs or promotions within the FDNY — while the threat of budget cuts looms. He currently counts about 3,900 members, including 180 in the training academy.
A few stricken by COVID-19 haven’t returned yet because of “severe medical complications,” he added.
As New York confronts the possibility of a second wave of the coronavirus, Barzilay warns that New Yorkers face the danger of another slowdown in emergency medical response times.
“We are not ready to deal with a second wave,” he said. “We have substandard [personal protective equipment]. We are extremely short staffed with EMTs and paramedics. Response time will significantly go up.”