Expert says fire department response times ‘cannot be trusted’
Success hinges on accuracy of raw data
A statistics expert who is auditing the Los Angeles Fire Department’s data analysis told the Fire Commission that response times supplied by LAFD officials cannot be trusted, in part because of software problems.
Jeff Godown’s audit stems from an assignment he was given in March by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to help the LAFD establish a CompStat-type management system similar to the one set up in 2002 at the Los Angeles Police Department by then-Chief William Bratton, who had successfully used such a system to map crime and police responses in New York City.
The success of a CompStat-type system hinges on the accuracy of the raw data. But LAFD officials conceded in March that the performance data they had released for years made it appear that firefighters were responding to emergencies faster than was the case.
Following inquiries from the Los Angeles Times, department officials released numbers they said were accurate, but Godown rejected the process used to come up with the revisions.
“Both computer and human errors were discovered,” he wrote. “. . . I am not confident that the data represented by the department’s report is accurate until further research is concluded.”
Godown told commissioners today, May 15, that he has been unable to make response times and incident counts generated by two separate data management systems the LAFD has used match, including one the department began using in 2009. Godown said he is working with that software company, Deccan International, to fix the problems.
Fire Chief Brian Cummings played down the inconsistencies.
“We’re not talking huge inconsistencies here,” he said. “We’re talking seconds different over large databases, large data sets, 377,000 calls a year that we’re looking at.”
However, Godown told the commission, the suspect Deccan software should not be used until its kinks are ironed out and recommended that the unit that analyzes statistics for Cummings be beefed up -- via more training and the addition of two civilians.
“The men and women of this department are very dedicated to doing what they get paid to do. They should not be in the business of data mining,” Godown told the commission. “We have to take a step back and build up the concrete foundation for what we stand on is those response times . . . If we can’t get those response times right, we’re going to have issues as far as credibility.”
Godown’s report was overshadowed by the Fire Commission’s reaction to receiving it minutes prior to the meeting when media was given access to the report Monday night.
“I am not happy about that,” Hudley-Hayes said. “If it was done 14 hours ago, then we should have gotten it 14 hours ago, as well . . . we have electronic media. It should have been sent to us.”
“We can’t talk to you about (the report) in any clear, thoughtful way today which would help us,” Hudley-Hayes added.
The Fire Department now will regenerate all the data previously presented to the public and city officials, according to Godown, who was expected to discuss his report today with Villaraigosa and to update his report within a month.
The commission voted to make recently appointed Fire Commissioner Alan Skobin—who oversaw the implementation of the LAPD’s CompStat system while a police commissioner—as the board’s liaison on the fire department’s data problems.
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