The City Council today approved the creation of a civilian internal affairs unit in the Los Angeles Fire Department to investigate everything from minor procedural violations to criminal allegations within the department.
The approval allows the department to hire nine positions to staff the so-called professional standards division, which performs about 300 investigations annually — or about 25 percent of the average 1,200 complaints the department receives each year.
“We have understood for a long time that there were problems in the fire department that need to be addressed," said Councilman Greig Smith, who chairs the Public Safety Committee/
A professional standards division was created in 2008 after a series of city audits by then-City Controller Laura Chick found flaws in the way the Fired Department investigated and documented harassment and discrimination charges and disciplined firefighters found guilty of charges.
Since 2008, investigations have been handled by senior fire captains, which cost more than civilians and raise conflict of interest concerns among rank and file firefighters.
“We're releasing the captains back to the field where they really should do their work and turning over investigation of complaints against fire fighters to a professional staff of (civilian) people that investigate those kind of human resource issues,” Smith said.
Assistant Chief Brian Cummings commended the rotating staff of 9 to 12 captains that have staffed the professional standards division. "We haven't had a major lawsuit since Chief Peaks became the fire chief (in 2009). We're doing a very good job with our people being disciplined," Cummings said.
The council approved the positions under the condition that any money saved by creating a civilian division would go back to restoring fire companies closed under a controversial deployment plan included in the city's budget for the coming year.
Council members Janice Hahn and Bill Rosendahl both argued for the return of fire companies in their respective districts, both of which saw companies closed.
“The savings from this is going to be very small. Maybe one vehicle, maybe one ambulance would be the most we're going to get out of this and I don't even think we're going to get that much,” Cummings said. “Now we've got one ambulance that we have to place, and we're going to place it in the most critical spot in the city of Los Angeles. The same way we did the analysis about which companies to close, we're going to do that same thoughtful process to decide which companies to add back.”