LA County sheriff's response times increase

Response times for Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies in August averaged about a minute longer than in the same month last year, it was reported today.

Since the department moved to cut its budget by $128 million six months ago, response times have consistently been longer than they were last year, though sheriff's officials told the Los Angeles Times that it was unclear if there was a causal relationship.

Last year, the average response time for 911 calls was 4.9 minutes. The month after budget cuts began, the average climbed to 5.5 minutes and last month rose to almost 6 minutes.

"Seconds count," Capt. Mike Parker told the newspaper. "When people call for help, they want us to be there right away. There have been lots of calls where I was really glad I was there when I was, and not five seconds later."

In a report to the county Board of Supervisors, Sheriff Lee Baca listed the lag as a possible effect of cuts to overtime. But in an interview with The Times, he said other factors, such as a surge in 911 calls, might be at play.

"It's not something to shrug off," Baca said. "We have to watch it and if our response to emergencies continues extending, we could come to a tipping point. I think we're still at the front end ... but we're inching up to it."

Supervisor Mike Antonovich wants to provide the sheriff's department with an additional $2.6 million for patrols in unincorporated areas.

Budget cuts have contributed to a growing backlog in the collection and analysis of fingerprint evidence, the Times reported.

In another result of cost cutting, 200 inmates were recently released early from jail, the newspaper reported. Time spent in custody for male misdemeanor offenders has dropped from 80 percent of their sentences to 35 percent.