The Chattanooga Police Department took heat Thursday night from Brainerd residents gathered at the BX community center about response times and petty crime.
About 150 people gathered for the Hilltop Neighborhood Association meeting to ask questions of Chief of Police Freeman Cooper and his staff, as well as Mayor Ron Littlefield.
Residents asked what officers were doing to prevent crime and to patrol the neighborhood that has seen a significant number of car break-ins and burglaries during February.
"We just do not have enough officers on the street to make that happen," Chief Cooper said in reference to eliminating crime. "We cannot arrest ourselves out of these problems."
He encouraged neighbors to watch out for one another and to call 911 when they spot suspicious activity.
Police said a small group of people commit most of the crimes, and officers work diligently to investigate them and arrest those involved, though they often are busy responding to many incidents.
Some residents questioned the police response time to a Feb. 20 burglary-in-progress call at a home on Oriole Drive. The time from the first 911 call to police arrival was more than 20 minutes, but police said they initially received the call as a report of a suspicious vehicle, a situation that has a lower priority than an in-progress crime.
Chief Cooper reminded residents that 911 calls go through dispatchers at the 911 Center, not directly to officers. He said the recent 911 unification has caused minor problems, but that officials would work to improve those and that unification was not an excuse.
"We hold everyone accountable from the first person who answers the phone to the officer who responds to the call," he said.
John Stuermer, director of the Hamilton County Emergency Communications District, said earlier Thursday that employees would attend more training to better adjust to unification.
Ashlee Beene, whose Oriole Drive house was the residence burglarized on Feb. 20, said she felt dissatisfied after the meeting.
"I don't feel a lot of questions got answered," she said. "Apparently a suspicious act is not a priority."
Assistant Chief Mike Williams, who oversees the police department's uniformed services division, said he encourages any local resident to ride with a police officer for a shift to gain a better understanding of the job.
"If people call me, I will make sure they get to ride with an officer," he said.
Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, who lives in the area, told residents they'll get through the tough times.
"We will find and arrest a surprisingly small number of people who will be responsible for a surprisingly large number of the incidents we've suffered in recent months," he said.