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When Seconds Count: On Your Side investigation reveals slow 911 response times by Cleveland police

Posted: 6:00 AM, May 04, 2017
Updated: 2018-02-09 14:22:31-05

'The Wild West'

“How is it right that people can just come and do this us?” said Trina Kuznik. “It’s like the wild west.”

The Painesville woman’s words now seem prophetic. 

“We can't get any help or support over here,” she told News 5 March 22.

Three weeks later, she was dead. 

“How is it right that people can just come and do this us?”

Her son found her, her husband Michael, and their Doberman, Axl, shot in the head inside the family’s business — Mr. Cars — on Good Friday.

A well-placed source said the killers took off with at least two cars, titles, keys and the surveillance system from the used car dealership. 

Their murders remain unsolved.

 

We want to know about your experience with Cleveland police response times. How long did you wait for help? Fill out our feedback form.

A Brazen Crime

On Your Side Investigators had interviewed Trina Kuznik as part of our in-depth investigation into the Cleveland Division of Police’s 911 response times. 

A burglar attempted to break into her family’s business, Mr. Cars on East 185th Street, on the morning of March 21.  

Kuznik was frustrated.

It wasn’t just the shattered glass she found covering the used car dealership’s parking lot or the surveillance camera video showing a dark figure scurry across East 185th Street that made her furious.

It was how Cleveland police responded to her call for help. 

“It’s just not acceptable,” she said. 

 

After discovering the break-in during a typical Tuesday morning, Kuzink immediately called 911. 

“The fact that he (the burglar) was brazen enough to come in my building really shook me up,” she said. “I definitely wanted police here at that time.” 

The dispatcher promised to send an officer, but by 4 p.m., no one had shown up. 

Kuznik called her councilman, Mike Polensek. He fired off an angry e-mail to public safety officials. That did the trick.

Around 5 p.m., an officer arrived. It was more than six hours after her initial call to report the crime. 

“They told me it was a petty crime,” she said. “To me, it wasn’t petty. It tells me we have a huge problem in this city."

What 911 Records Revealed

So how often are residents with lower priority 911 calls, like theft, left waiting?

On Your Side Investigators analyzed more than 400,000 incidents reported to Cleveland’s 911 call-takers between Jan. 1, 2014, and Dec. 31, 2016 from the time call-takers input the call to the time officers reported their arrival on scene.

We found you can’t count on a quick response.  Thousands of 911 callers waited just as long as Trina Kuznik for help from police.

Our data shows it took CDP at least six hours to respond to 2,306 calls, including a property crime reported in 2016 with a response time of 25 hours.

On average, if a call is not considered a critical emergency, we found it took CDP 1 hour and 29 minutes to respond. 

When Seconds Count

What about when seconds count?

We found it takes CDP an average of 17 minutes to respond to priority 1 and priority 2 calls. 

However, the department’s average response time varied widely depending on the type of crime reported by the 911 caller.

For example, it took CDP an average of 8 minutes to respond to 911 calls about “shots fired.” 

INTERACTIVE: Data reveals slow response time from Cleveland police

“Felonious assault” calls averaged 10 minutes, “kidnapping/abduction” calls averaged 12 minutes, domestic violence calls averaged 13 minutes, and robbery calls averaged 14 minutes. 

Callers reporting assaults, sex offenses and missing persons waited more than twice as long, on average, for police to arrive at their locations. 

A Second Chance

On Your Side Investigators also found it took CDP at least 19 minutes to respond to approximately 30 percent of priority 1 and priority 2 calls. 

That’s how long “Jane” waited the first time her abusive ex-boyfriend threatened her. 

It enough time for him to knock down her door, grab a steak knife from the kitchen, slash her left cheek and escape.

"If they would have arrived 'Johnny on the spot' like they're supposed to, there wouldn’t have been a second time,” she said.

One week later, her ex-boyfriend returned. 

"If they would have arrived 'Johnny on the spot' like they're supposed to, there wouldn’t have been a second time."

This time he held her at gunpoint before running away when he heard distant sirens.

This time it took police even longer to respond. 

“I had enough time to stand outside, talk to my neighbor, I walked to the store. I came back and the police still weren't there,” she said. 

Three hours after she called police, officers finally arrived at her home.

“I could have lost my life that day and no one woulda knew until hours later,” she said.

Cleveland’s Police Chief Responds

On Your Side Investigators sat down for an interview with Calvin Williams, Cleveland’s Chief of Police, to address CDP’s response times. 

 

“I think we’re doing a good job, but there’s always room for improvement,” said Williams. 

The way CDP calculates 911 responses times, they do appear faster.

CDP starts the clock when dispatchers tell police where to go, not when you call 911. 

Using only that data, it takes CDP an average of seven and a half minutes to respond to emergencies – not 17. 

“If you call 911, I believe police are going to respond quickly,” he said. W

Watch the full interview with Williams below:

 

But how can Williams be so sure?

Deeply Flawed Data

Our investigative team found thousands of flaws in the city’s 911 data no one could truly explain. 

We wanted to determine the total number of 911 calls officers never answered. 

However, approximately one-third of the data provided to us by Daniel Williams, the city's director of media relations, is missing critical details. 

For example, we found 127,445 incidents missing officers’ arrival times.

We also found 82,359 incidents missing the time dispatchers assigned the calls. 

“I don't know any business that would be content running itself with a lack of data like that,” said Jim Buerrmann, president of the Police Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to improving policing in the United States. 

“They should have an answer for people as to why they don’t show up,” he said. “To not do that begins a process that decays the public’s trust and confidence in the police and it is very problematic for a department’s relationship with the community that they’re paid to protect.” 

On Your Side Investigators asked Williams if the city tracks how often officers fail to respond to 911 calls. 

Williams said, “If we get a call for service, we show up for the call for service.” 

He said, “I talk to people every day” and said he does not hear complaints about officers’ failing to respond.

Trina’s Turn

“This is not just me,” said Kuznik. 

“Everybody on the street will tell you the same thing. All the business owners just don't bother (calling police) anymore because it almost feels pointless,” she said. 

 

Even though, before her death, Kuznik was certain criminals would target Mr. Cars again. 

When we asked if she would call police, she replied, “Probably not. What would be the point? Unless someone’s shooting at me. Maybe then.”

She never had the chance to decide. 

Her final message was a warning.

“We have a huge problem in this city,” she said. “I think we really need to take a good look at it before our city crumbles apart.” 

There is a $7500 reward for anyone who has information that leads to an arrest in her case.

A GoFundMe page has been set up for the three children the Kuznik's left behind.