Response time to a 911/LAPD call

As far as I can tell, anyone who has ever called 911 in LA to report something has a story about it not being as helpful as they’d hoped. We’ve got a few of these tucked away in out archives. Back in 2004 Cindy blogged about a recording telling her that her call was not an emergency and being put on hold after calling 911 and last summer Spencer started a running count of how many times he called 1-800-ASKLAPD to report drug deals & prostitution happening right outside of his house only to never have an officer even drive by. Today LA Observed points to Here in Van Nuys where Andrew is documenting minute by minute his call to 911 and then the wait for a reaction.

4:45pm: A man parks a truck in front of your house, blocking your driveway. He is dressed in para-military clothing and boots. He gets out of the truck and walks up and down your street, throwing objects at various houses…

At 5:05pm you call “911”. The operator, here in Van Nuys, answers in Spanish. Not English. You don’t know if you’ve reached 911. Then you say, “Is this 911?” She answers back in Spanish. Then you are transferred to a police operator. You describe a weird man in front of your house, doing strange things, and ask if they can send a cop car over to check it out.

6:02pm: He finally drives away.

6:10pm: The LAPD drives past your house.

For every one of these stories someone seems to have an idea how to get a better reaction. Personally I’ve been told (by friends, not law enforcement) never to call 911, but rather to call a local dispatch. I’ve also been told to make the situation sound “a little worse than it is” to get an officer to show up quicker. While I haven’t tried those myself, nor do I recommend them, it definitely is worth asking if calling 911 isn’t the best way to get help fast, what is, and why isn’t 911 what it’s billed as being? In fact, this is exactly the kind of thing that I’d love to hear from the folks at the LAPD blog about, maybe they have some insight?

15 thoughts on “Response time to a 911/LAPD call”

  1. I’ve only called 911 once in my life. It was November ’02 and my mother and I were in Chinatown. She consumed something she was allergic to and had an immediate anaphylactic reaction. At first I was going to take her to the nearest hospital, but decided when she collapsed as we were getting her back to the car that I had to have an ambulance.

    I called 911 and a paramedic was there within 4 minutes (Engine Company #2). Their response was fantastic and probably saved my mother’s life.

    We visited the station a couple of days later with some Starbucks cards because my mother felt bad about throwing up in their “wagon.”

    While this was not a law enforcement emergency but a medical emergency, I felt they did a good job.

  2. Well, I figured out where all the cops are when I received a jaywalking ticket today in Boyle Heights; two bike cops were staking out an intersection expressly for jaywalkers. If they have time to dedicate two officers to jaywalking, I suppose they feel that they’ve pared down 911 response times to an acceptable minimum.

  3. I’ve been told by law enforcement not to call 911 but rather local. This was after my girlfriend was mugged, and 45 minutes later while we were waiting for the cops on a well-lit spot right near my apartment, I was jumped too! So we called 911 again, and 30 minutes after that went to bed. The police showed up a few hours later, and when we went in to look at pictures of suspects, the officer gave us the local dispatch phone number to call “in case 911 isn’t responsive enough”.

  4. 911 or local dispatch, response time in Hollywood is usually a minimum of 30 minutes, even when some guy was actively being beaten by some thugs.
    Another tenant was mugged in our parking lot – her reaction was to scream FIRE! and the LAFD did show up within 5 minutes… but the police took about 20 minutes.

    The only reason I’d support your push to legalize carried weapons.

  5. maybe it’s just a quick google search away and i’m being lazy, but is there a spot that lists all the local dispatch numbers and the areas they cover?

  6. One time there was a man being verbally and physically abusive to his girlfriend/wife/whatever outside of my work after we had closed. We called 911 to get the cops out there to mediate, and although there’s often sheriffs coming in for coffee, it still took more than 30 minutes to get any response.

    I was put on hold for 5 minutes too… :/ The system needs an overhaul

  7. One of the things that seems crazy to me is that the response time is all over the map. I called 888-ASK-LAPD last week about an altercation going on in front of my house at 11 on a Saturday night and expected no response. Instead, they showed up in like 10 minutes. Alternately, I’ve called about stuff on a lazy Sunday afternoon and had them take 45 minutes to respond.

    Does the LA County Sheriff have a number you can call? I wonder how their response time is? And I’ll second the kudos for the LAFD. Their response time is golden.

  8. We called 911 once because the trees in our front yard had been set on fire by the hot exhaust of a car turning around (not our car, and please don’t ask me how this set fire to a tree…). We couldn’t even get through to talk to anyone. We put the fire out ourselves.


  9. Thank you for the kind words regarding the LAFD’s response time, and more importantly the care or services rendered once we arrived. FYI, we’ve got some pretty cool news about “our” part of the 9-1-1 response system coming out later this year, but back to the thread at hand.

    Cybele, I’m deeply touched by your Mother’s thoughtfulness and concern (the acorn clearly doesn’t fall far from the tree), but please reassure her that vomiting in our presence and in our ambulance (and sometimes on us) is merely part of the job we sign on to do. You’ll never read about it in the newspaper, but it happens every hour of every day in every neighborhood of the City.

    9-1-1 in Los Angeles is unpredictably busy, but I would NOT personally suggest anyone calling some unaudited ‘local’ number for an emergency response (i.e the Front Desk at a Community Police Station or a Neighborhood Fire Station’s business line) unless it was provided by the public safety agency just for that purpose.

    I do know people try to call our Fire Stations directly thinking it will speed up things, but all it does is cause (sometimes serious) delay that endangers lives.

    While I can’t speak officially for the Police side (HINT: they may want to address something like this on their blog soon?), I can say that it ultimately becomes an issue of supply and demand. Too many calls, not enough calltakers.

    Oh, and by the way, the NON-Emergency LAPD number is 877-ASK-LAPD.

    If you’d like to take a tour of LAPD’s comm centers or have a guest speaker come to your group, call the LAPD Communications Division Community Relations Unit at: 213-485-8503.

    If you’d like to visit the LAFD’s ‘Ant Farm’, just drop me a line.

    Respectfully Yours in Safety and Service (and always with my ear to the rail),

    Brian Humphrey
    Public Service Officer
    Los Angeles Fire Department

  10. Do you get frequent marriage proposals, Mr. Humphrey, because you are, by far, the kindest public service I’ve ever seen – er, read. I hope my home, car, self never catches fire. But if it does, I hope I’m in LA . . . .

  11. The only time my wife or I had to call the LAPD was when we were living in a sketchy neighborhood near La Cienega/Pico. There was a big fistfight outside of our apartment between some young guys. Knowing that it was a gang neighborhood, and that there were drivebys in the past, we called the local LAPD number. They took the report, but never came out.

    There was the morning where we had to ask the SWAT team to move their van while the officers with machine guns were swarming the apartment across the street from us…

  12. Thanks for your typically insightful response Brian. I agree that it’s probably mostly a case of supply and demand, but that issue is certainly magnified by a bevy of poor implementations and people problems.

    I use 877-ASK-LAPD all the time. My satisfaction varies widely depending on the dispatcher that picks up. Sometimes I get great, friendly and helpuful people and sometimes I get the kind of unresponsive, even vindictive, mindless civic service zombies that people complain about staffing the DMV. It’s maddening. Also, oftentimes I can’t get through on that number. That’s understandable sometimes, but the annoying part is that will put me on hold and cycle me through a loop of confusing hold messages, including the TTY screech and a message telling me that next time I should call 877-ASK-LAPD. You only need to sit through that a couple of times before you’re driven to hang up. I’d be much more comfortable with the low quantity of responders if I at least felt like the people on the other end had some kind of grasp on how to handle it.

  13. Mr. Humphry (and I understand this isn’t your service to defend) — How is it that 911 could possibly be “unpredictably busy”? Is 911 a brand new service that the city just rolled out? Was it working just fine up until right now when all of a sudden the volume spiked in response to no foreseeable event? 911 is busy and underfunded. There’s no possible way that this is a surprise or that the lack of some sort of “prediction” should lead to an unusable public emergency service. That’s just sick.

  14. I really appreciate the passionate yet polite discourse in this thread. This is exactly the kind of thing I (always hope to) enjoy at our Fire Department blog, and am hoping that LAPD and others can routinely experience the same.

    Please know that as I juggle multiple computer screens and phone calls, I sometimes don’t choose the best words when posting comments.

    AP, you’re spot on! Mea culpa.

    “Unpredictably unpredictable” *might* have been a better phrase to use, and ONLY THEN to somehow seek a dramatic cushion in personnel to assure surge capacity handling calls at any Dispatch Center. All one need do is Google to see that hiring and retaining civilian public safety dispatchers is a profound challenge across our great land.

    Persons far brighter than I though, and in positions of greater authority at the Police Department, make the difficult decisions in regards to those who first answer most 9-1-1 calls in Los Angeles.

    The Firefighter/Dispatchers at the LAFD (who may be a vanishing breed?) only get the calls once they are processed by LAPD or CHP. We have our own share of busy-ness, but it is clearly eclipsed by what the Dispatchers at those agencies face around the clock.

    Personally? When it comes to municipal services, I can think of none more important than public safety, and within that oft-expanding description, nothing more critical than life safety. Please know that I’m not only speaking as a Firefighter/Paramedic (who some might solely see as putting food on the table), but also as a husband and father who understands how easy it is to go from provider of such services to being a recipient. Trust me.

    Though one very prominent City of Los Angeles official frequents these forums, the truth remains that any Los Angeles resident can tap into the office of their elected City Council representative to share their personal views and concerns. The more often, passionately and accurately you share these concerns, the more likely that these officials can address them to both your satisfaction and safety. Rather than merely complaining though, I’d suggest a visit and/or contact with the 9-1-1 center personnel, including their Command Staff, so that you can offer specific input to a solution.

    Well, I’d best get back to writing up the trench rescue in Van Nuys. I’ll be posting some amazing photos in our Flickr account as well.

    Thanks for letting me ramble.


  15. I see what you’re saying — not that the sustained load is too high but the variance puts the system over capacity at times.

    I still find it a sore spot that having guessed wrong previously about what the dynamics of the system would be that the problems haven’t been ameliorated once they were manifest and predictions were no longer necessary.

    I don’t think anyone is arguing otherwise, so I’ll hang it up here.

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