Heat (movie) - Police Response time?

In the opening scene of the movie “Heat,” in which an armored truck was targeted by a gang of armed robbers seeking a shipment of bearer bonds, the thieves were meticulously careful to complete their task and flee the scene of the crime within a specific “response time” that it would take for the LAPD to respond to a 211 (armed robbery). How exactly did they know (or estimate) the response time? I’m sure that the LAPD’s response would involve some degree of coordination, as opposed to just having nearby patrol cars haphazardly head to the scene of the robbery, since if one or two cars were to arrive before the others the officers would have been overwhelmed by the robbers who were equipped with automatic weapons. That being said, is the process really so well choreographed that the response time is that predictable? It didn’t seem to me that Robert DeNiro’s character (the crew’s leader) was simply being cautious, since when Al Pacino’s character (an LAPD Detective, and the gang’s nemesis) arrives at the scene he observes that the robbers were so well disciplined and sophisticated that they chose to forgo cash and other valuables that were also in the truck because they knew the police response time to a 211.

I’m well aware that we’re talking about a work of fiction here, but whoever wrote the script seemed to be fairly concerned about accuracy, at least by Hollywood standards. For example, Heat stands out as one of a small group of movies whose writer(s) were aware that it’s necessary to reload during an extended firefight with automatic weapons (during the bank robbery scene), and a friend of mine who was in the military says this is the only movie scene he’s watched where the characters actually use authentic police/military tactics. This leads me to believe that there is at least some conceptual basis for the thieves’ reliance on a specific response time when planning the robbery. So, are there any law enforcement personnel or buffs here on the SDMB that can weigh in on this?

I can’t comment on how the gang would have access to average LAPD response time (for all I know it’s something the local news reports on), but one of the technical advisers on the film was Andy McNab, formerly of the SAS and was also responsible for coming up with the gang’s plan to hit the armored car.


I always thought of the “response time” that’s frequently cited by the thieves in robbery/heist movies like Heat as being more of a very conservative estimate rather than a precise figure. They’re professional thieves with a lot of experience between them, so they’re able to look at their plan, where the closest stations are located, etc. and say “OK, there’s no way they’ll be able to answer the phone, pile into the SWAT van, and drive over here in less than 2 minutes.”

Maybe it’ll probably take them 5 minutes to respond, or even 10, but even if everything goes perfectly for the authorities, there’s just no way they’ll be able to get from point A to point B in less than 2 minutes. So the thieves know that they’ll be safe the first two minutes, but every second after that they’ll be taking a risk. Because these guys are professionals who don’t want to get caught, they make sure they’re gone like Kaiser Soze in two minutes, no matter what.

What marked them as professionals in Heat is that they had the self-control to execute their plan and bug out even when surrounded by riches, when lesser thieves may have succumbed to temptation and deviated from the timetable, like a fox in a henhouse.

Hoo-ah. These guys are pros – ready to rock and roll at the drop of a hat.

You estimate response times by phoning in a fake crime with similar variables in regards to time, traffic, location, etc. Say a pawn robbery in the same neighborhood. For extra insurance, you could cut their phone line, so 911 can’t call the business in question while officers are in route. Start the stop watch, and stand around with a bag while you wait for your dog to crap.

Response times are tracked by police departments and serve as a COMPSTAT metric for efficiency when determining manpower requirements and deployment patterns. These are tracked automatically by the dispatch system. These aren’t published publicly but are available to city administration.

Peace officers in patrol cruisers don’t just drive out of the station and go wherever they feel like going; they are assigned a patrol area. For the LAPD these are called a Basic Car Area of which there are about eight or nine for each division. The BCA has one to two permanently assigned cruisers plus a roving patrol (District Coordinating Sergeant) that controls a cluster of BCAs. By knowing the COMPSTAT calculated response time within a division or looking at the patrol areas and patterns you can estimate response time to a given site.

Although McCauley’s crew is clearly working on a clock, they certainly aren’t relying on the average to fall their way. While DeNiro is ransacking the truck for the bearer bonds, he’s got one guy covering the guards, one listening to the radio, and two covering the exits, all of whom are armed with automatic rifles, which is certainly enough to deal with an initial patrol response. And of course, they put down tire spikes to stop the first responders.

And yes, both the technical details of the heists and the weapons handling and firefight tactics are very accurate, at least compared to just about anything else in Hollywood. Director Michael Mann is a stickler for technical details; in his first film, Thief, he has James Caan actually cutting through a real safe door with an actual thermal lance; no fakery like that seen in the dreadful remake of The Italian Job.

As mentioned, Andy McNab (a pseudonym for a former SAS soldier) not only choreographed the firefight sequences, but also personally trained the actors in gun handling and tactics for two months, which is why the gun handling in the film is actually professional. The next closest example of this that I’ve seen is the TV show The Unit, which (generally) also showed good small unit tactics and gun handling, also being trained and choreographed by a former operator (in this case former 1SOFD-D operator Eric Haney, who also worked on Mamet’s underrated Spartan with Val Kilmer).


Such things are often part of city council meetings and budget proposals for EMS agencies.

10 min avg response $10,000,000
8 min avg response $20,000,000
5 min avg response $100,000,000
2 min avg response $500,000,000

Its gonna be a couple minutes for officers to even recieve the call. So if you have a well prepared plan to say hit a bank and be out in 2 minutes, you will not see a police car. 3-5 min and you might get one or two, by the time ten minutes has rolled around in a major city, you can have enough cops to take on anything short of a ranger battalion.

Way of the Gun is also often cited for realistic handling and firefights.

Though not as professional and high-tech as the movie, even low-level thugs in my jusrisdiction have their ways to test the system. One is as simple as having a panicky victim call in a crime at X location. Obviously different crimes will receive differing levels of attention.

Another fun trick is to throw a brick or rock through the front window of a store - setting off the alarm, then sit back and watch for the police response They’ll do this for weeks, even months, until they think they have it figured out, then strike. Somehow they never factor in a dog in the liquor store equation.

I know I get a chuckle out of hearing the cops say they can hear the bad guys screaming a block away.
You want to bag an armored truck? It just takes more homework regarding police schedules and staffing levels, traffic, - well, I’ve said too much already.

There is no accurate way to gauge PD response time. Too many variables. As pointed out earlier, it would be the minimum response time, factored by nearest police station, and their routine. The rest is show biz.