Villaraigosa seeks to stop bleeding at LA Fire Department with stats expert

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Seeking to address a growing crisis of confidence in the L.A. Fire Department, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has appointed a statistical expert to create a “data analysis system” for the LAFD. He said he made the decision with Fire Chief Brian Cummings.

The move, which was announced Thursday night in a release, follows revelations the department has been providing data to the L.A. City Council and media that showed it was getting to medical emergencies faster that it really was. Recent problems with dispatch equipment have caused further delays in response.

“The current situation is untenable,” Villaraigosa said in a letter to the city council. “We need monitoring procedures to ensure that all response time data are accurate, and transparent. It is paramount that the department maintains the public trust.”

The mayor also asked the city council to restore six ambulances he removed from service during the budget crisis two years ago. The city still faces a deficit but Villaraigosa is proposing using money from the City Reserve Fund.

The mayor appointed Cummings as fire chief in December. He'd been with the department more than three decades. Asked if Villaraigosa retains confidence in his selection, Deputy Mayor Matt Szabo said yes.

Cummings this week compounded his problems when he ordered the department to limit the information it provides the media and public about incidents the LAFD. Villaraigosa quickly demanded Cummings drop the policy.

Villaraigosa’s intervention in the fire department’s operations were intended to restore faith in it, he said. The mayor may also be trying to limit the political damage it's inflicting onhis administration. Villaraigosa’s budget cuts to the department have become an issue in next year’s mayoral race.

The department's new statistical expert will be Jeff Godown, who ran the LAPD’s vaunted COMPSTAT computer analysis program under former Chief William Bratton.

"Jeff Godown is the right man at the right time,” said Bratton in the release. “One of the foremost COMPSTAT experts and advocates in America, he is imminently qualified to work with the Los Angeles Fire Department as it implements this award-winning management resource distribution and accountability system.”

Councilman Dennis Zine wasn’t impressed with the move. He said it doesn’t require an expert to figure how long it takes the fire department to get to an emergency: “They just need to be candid, and they need to be transparent.”

In the release, Godown said he believed he could help.

“It is important that a process be implemented that allows for a more strategic look at all of the relevant data produced,” Godown said. “This process will allow for a more detailed and thoughtful approach.”

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