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March 12, 2024 | Welcome To The Third World, Part 2: When The Cops Don’t Come

John Rubino is a former Wall Street financial analyst and author or co-author of five books, including The Money Bubble: What to Do Before It Pops and Clean Money: Picking Winners in the Green-Tech Boom. He founded the popular financial website in 2004, sold it in 2022, and now publishes John Rubino’s Substack newsletter.

Most Americans call or otherwise interact with the police very infrequently. So our sense of how that public service works may not be up to date. For instance, it’s generally believed that if you call the cops, they’ll respond.

But that’s not always how it works these days. One 2023 study found big increases in police response times. Here’s an excerpted transcript from an NPR report:

Police response times are getting longer. That’s according to a new analysis of the average time it takes cops in 15 cities to respond to calls ranging from low priority vandalism to acts of violence. As NPR’s Martin Kaste reports, the longer waits come as police departments struggle to keep enough officers on staff.

There isn’t a national program tracking police response times, but some cities gather and publish their own stats. Jeff Asher, a crime analyst who publishes on Substack, compiled the numbers for 15 of those cities. “A lot of the larger agencies – New Orleans, Nashville, Portland, New York City, Seattle – are seeing reasonably sizable increases in the average response time,” he says.

But those increases vary a lot. In New Orleans, average response times almost tripled, from 51 minutes in 2019 to 146 minutes last year. In New York, the number jumped less, from 18 minutes to 33. Asher says these figures are just a sampling of what’s going on nationally. But the trend seems clear.

Chuck Wexler runs the Police Executive Research Forum. He says older officers are quitting or retiring at a faster rate. And new recruits are harder to come by. He calls longer response times an early warning sign that the staffing shortages are now starting to have an effect. “If your house is being broken into and you need the police there in 4 minutes and they get there in 7 minutes, it makes a huge difference,” he notes.

Some departments have tried to make up for officer shortages by shifting non-emergency work and some mental health calls to civilians. But some of those cities report hiring and training civilians has also been slow.

Much Worse

This sounds bad, but in some cities it’s much, much worse. Austin is starting to resemble San Francisco:

Austin police department in crisis amid shortages, ‘defund the police’ measures

The Austin Police Department is dealing with a significant staffing shortage, which resulted in an entire neighborhood going unpoliced during a period of time in February. The 911 response times have grown lengthy and residents are outraged.

Michael Bullock, President of the Austin Police Association, told Fox News that the city is on the “brink of a disaster.”

“Previous councils and leadership have actively worked against our officers and department, which has now put us in a free-falling staffing crisis,” said Bullock. “Twice now we’ve had our contract voted down or it has been allowed to expire. Each year since 2017, we’ve lost more officers than we’ve hired. We had to gut our specialized units and force detectives to work backfill on patrol just to try and respond to 911 calls.”

Austin resident Lauren Klinefelter slammed the longer 911 response times and told the network that after she had been involved in a significant car accident in 2022 with her two young children ages 8 and 2, she couldn’t get through to a dispatcher.

“We needed an ambulance and some emergency assistance because not only was my car totaled, but my children were both bleeding and visibly injured,” she said, recanting the incident.

“I called 911 and, to my surprise, it rang and rang endlessly, only to be routed to a 311 operator for non-emergencies,” said Klinefelter.

The Austin mother explained that she was forced to call a ride-sharing service to be transported to the hospital after an hour had passed with no help from emergency responders.

“My children were bleeding and over an hour had passed, so with no other option, we got a Lyft to the hospital and back home. The police never showed up, I was never contacted by anyone to follow up on the incident,” she said.

“I understand longer response times in certain situations, but no response at all is scary! Especially when your babies are the ones you are seeking help for. I hope that our city can become safe again and that the police department can fill the empty spots, because if not, God help us all,” added Klinefelter.

And in Pittsburgh they’ve made it official: Don’t bother calling for most things:

Report: Pittsburgh Police Are No Longer Responding To ‘Non Emergency’ Calls

WPXI Channel 11 out of Pittsburgh reports that police will no longer be responding to calls that are not deemed to be “in-progress emergencies,” meaning theft, harassment, criminal mischief, and burglary alarms will essentially be ignored.

Such calls will Instead be redirected to an answer machine, according to the report which also notes that from 3 am to 7 am, the city’s six police stations will operate without desk officers present.

Only around 20 officers will be available for overnight shifts to cover the entire city, the report further notes, stating that the decision has been taken due to “understaffing.”

Police Chief Larry Scirotto has said that he wants to cut the call volume from approximately 200,000 calls per year down to about 50,000 and that the changes are neccessary.

Police enforcement is at an all-time low, according to city reports, with arrests in the city having dropped from over 18,000 in 2013 to 6,710 in 2022. Traffic stops also dropped from close to 29,000 in 2013 to a record-low 6,883 in 2022. Meanwhile, violent crime has risen since 2019.

What Does This Mean?

Big cities—which are crowded, stressful powderkegs in the best of times—are running out of money. Blame it on overly generous public sector pensions, massive increases in illegal immigration, technology that makes it possible to live and work in smaller towns, or a political consensus that devalues quality of life in favor of, well, crazy people.

Whatever the cause, the result is that much of urban America is starting to resemble a war zone. Residents are understandably fleeing such places, further shrinking urban tax bases, and so on, in a self-reinforcing cycle that ends in a very dark place.

Speaking of dark places, here’s the other article in this series:

Welcome To the Third World, Part 1: California’s “Surprise” $67 Billion Deficit

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March 12th, 2024

Posted In: John Rubino Substack

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