Gilbert is paying the price for being the fastest-growing community in the nation.
Gilbert Police Department statistics show the town’s police officers handled about 60 percent more calls during the first quarter of this year than for the same period of last year.
Officers went to 31,560 calls between Jan. 1 and April 30, compared with just under 19,000 calls in the first quarter of 2003.
"It’s been hectic, but we’re doing the best we can," police Lt. Joe Ruet said.
As a result of the increase in calls, the way Gilbert police operate has changed, he said.
More calls are being handled over the phone by civilian employees, particularly in burglary or auto theft cases in which there are no suspects or evidence. In addition, residential burglary calls normally handled by two officers are now, in most cases, being answered by one officer.
The days of small-town officers stopping for chats are long gone, Ruet said.
"We’re trying to be more efficient and more effective," he said. "We’re getting to the point quicker and going to the next call."
But the time it takes an officer to respond to a top priority call increased 11 percent in the first quarter this year compared to the same period last year. The average response time for this year’s first quarter was eight minutes, 65 seconds.
"It’s taking us longer to get to calls, but when you’re spread thin, that’s predictable," Ruet said.
The police department hired 15 officers this year and expects to add a similar number over the coming budget year. Unfortunately, Ruet said, it takes about a year before new officers are fully trained and ready to hit the streets.
A police services subcommittee has told the Town Council the department needs to add 16 new officers every year for the next five years in order to meet a recommended level of 1.1 officers per 1,000 residents. Right now, the town has an officerto-resident ratio of 0.97 for every 1,000 residents.
Calls for service are just one indicator of how a town is doing crime-wise. A better indicator, Ruet said, is how many police reports are being taken.
There were 5,900 reports recorded in the first quarter this year compared with 5,256 for the same period last year. And a 13 percent increase isn’t too bad considering how fast the town has grown, Ruet said.
Crimes on the increase in Gilbert include residential burglaries, theft, forgery and car burglaries.