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Call response times grow as Columbia Police Department deals with staffing issues


When calling the police, people typically expect a speedy response, but that's not always the case -- or even possible -- as staffing shortages across the country continue to affect police departments, including Columbia's.

The Columbia Police Department has 49 vacancies, 38 of which are sworn officer positions. Eleven are civilian positions.

The shortage shows in longer response times and lower clearance rates for less violent crimes.

From 2022 to 2023 the department saw the median time it takes to respond to some 911 calls increase from 6.80 minutes to 7.35 minutes.

"Any time we're short officers as we are today, it's going to impact response times," said CPD Chief Jill Schlude. "I would say for the most part, our response times, the greater reduction is to non-violent crimes or non-Priority 1 or 2 calls."

Schlude said Priority 1 calls receive the quickest response times from officers. Priority 1 calls involve the most serious, violent crimes.

"An officer is dispatched to a call that's in progress that involves someone, you know, physical safety is at risk. So they could be being assaulted, have just been assaulted," said Schlude. "There's a robbery going on — something of that nature that would be considered like a Priority 1 type call. There's someone's safety is in danger. They might be hurt already or potentially getting hurt."

Schlude said call volume is also used to determine which calls are a priority for the department.

"More calls don't always necessarily equal faster response. It just kind of sometimes tells us, hey, there's probably more validity to this call," said Schlude.

"Sometimes we'll get shots fired call, we get one call and someone says, 'Well, I think I think I heard a gunshot,' but we don't get multiple callers. That generally tells us chances are it probably was not a gunshot or generally more people call in when they hear something like that."

The Columbia Police Department's staffing issues also affect the department's clearance rate of crimes, because the department has to focus more of its resources on violent crimes rather than non-violent crimes.

According to the FBI's Crime Data Explorer CPD's clearance rates have ticked up slightly between 2021-2022, while the number of crimes reported has decreased slightly.

Crimes reported by the Columbia Police Department

YearCrimes ReportedCrimes Cleared
2019404138 (34%)
2020270204 (75%)
2021645242 (37%)
2022603269 (45%)
FBI Note: Crimes are not necessarily cleared in the year they occur.

According to the database, there were 479 violent crime incidents reported in 2022.

The FBI defines a violent crime as homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, followed by property crimes/non-violent crimes of burglary, larceny-theft and motor vehicle theft. Violent crimes take priority with investigators, Schlude said.

Schlude said the department's detective unit is only 65% to 70% staffed.

"When we have rashes of thefts into motor vehicles, thefts of motor vehicles, burglaries, those crimes are not being worked as intensely as we would like," said Schlude. "Because we just don't have the staff."

"We have to deal with things like robberies, assaults, and homicides first," Schlude said.

CPD property crime clearance rates 2023

Type of Crime:Number of Offenses:Percent of Clearance:
Motor Vehicle Theft44512.36%
Larceny (Theft)2,3988.67%
Data provided by the Columbia Police Department.

CPD violent crime clearance rates 2023

Type of Crime:Number of Offenses:Percent of Clearance:
Aggravated Assault36943.36%
Sexual Assault765.26%
Data provided by the Columbia Police Department.

Schlude said the department has 14 detectives on staff, with at least two openings in its Criminal Investigation Unit and four openings in its Special Investigation Division.

Several factors go into the department's decision about which cases are investigated first by detectives. Violent crimes take precedence followed by non-violent, property crimes. Detectives look at the cases using solvability factors to determine the case's likelihood of being solved, and which cases will be investigated first.

"It really just depends on the severity of the case and the crime," said Schlude. "As the city grows and as we get busier, you need to exponentially grow each one of those units to handle the increased caseload. And we just haven't been able to do that because of staffing."

Staffing up

Schlude has only held her position for a few months. Still, she has already begun hiring new officers and has made some major changes to make the application process easier.

"We changed our approach to testing," Schlude said, "in the spirit of trying to remove barriers to get things done."

On Feb. 2, the department moved its testing portion online. Before the change, applicants had to pick up a study guide from the department and then schedule a time to come back in and take the test. Now, applicants will be emailed a link from Human Resources to complete the testing online.

"If people are working, or they have school, they can't just keep taking off work to come down to do all these different steps," Schlude said. "So, we are trying to consolidate things as much as we can or make them easier."

After completing the application, applicants will be notified whether they're eligible to be scheduled for an interview.

The entire application process from start to finish used to take close to six months, but Schlude said that to streamline the process, the department has gotten it down to about two months.

Schlude said the department is also changing its approach to interviews. "They can't leave the academy in Warrensburg and drive here during the day just to do an interview," Schlude said. "So, we're talking about going there and doing interviews on their campus, trying to come to folks."

Applicants must be 21 years or older to become a police officer, but as the department works to recruit people, Schlude said they are focusing on getting people as young as 18 years old in to build them up. They would be used as Community Service Aides -- civilians who help the department with non-violent calls and other work.

"We are trying to get these guys to come in a little bit, work with us, and at 21, they can become police officers," said Anthony Bowne, a sergeant for the training and recruiting section for the Professionals Standards Unit.

Recent tension between communities and police departments across the nation is also hindering the department's ability to recruit officers, Schlude said.

"There is a lot of focus on police," said Schlude. "You know, you have a pre- and post-social media world and the officers are very aware that they're operating in an environment where they're constantly being videoed. And for us, you know, we have our video, we're wearing body-worn cameras. But at the same time, I think that's something that's always in the back of their minds."

Article Topic Follows: Columbia

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Marina Diaz

Marina is a Multimedia Journalist for ABC 17 News, she is originally from Denver, Colorado. She went to Missouri Valley College where she played lacrosse and basketball, and anchored her school’s newscast.


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