Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa today unveiled a series of steps he hopes will restore the reputation of the Los Angeles Fire Department, which was damaged in recent weeks over reports of misleading response times, problems with its dispatch system, and a sudden change in policy for releasing information to news organizations and the public.
In a letter to City Council members, Villaraigosa announced the creation of a new director of data at the LAFD to provide a fresh assessment of the department's response times.
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Villaraigosa also appointed Alan Skobin, a nine-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Commission, to serve on the Board of Fire Commissioners, which oversees the Fire Department. He ordered six ambulances returned to service and allocated about $5 million to replace an aging part of the department's dispatch system.
"The current situation is untenable, and we must take immediate steps to rectify it," Villaraigosa said in a letter to City Council members sent late Thursday. "We need an emergency response system that is reliable and accountable. We need monitoring procedures to ensure that all response time data are accurate and transparent."
Villaraigosa ordered LAFD Chief Brian Cummings to create a new director of statistical analysis and review, and to hire the former head of the Police Department's COMPSTAT data system, Jeff Godown to fill the spot as interim director.
Villaraigosa described Godown as a nationally recognized expert in data management. Villaraigosa told council members Godown would analyze the department's response times and provide a report in 30 days.
"This process will allow for a more detailed and thoughtful approach to running a large department such as the LAFD," Godown said. "By using this data to deploy resources and examine response times and other components of the department, the LAFD will be able to move toward a process that is more transparent to the needs of the community in which it serves."
Skobin would bring "robust civilian oversight" to the Fire Commission.
If approved by the City Council, as expected, Skobin, who has been a Police Commissioner since 2003, would serve a term through June 2014.
Skobin served on a four-member committee that interviewed 13 finalists to replace former LAFD Chief Millage Peaks last summer. The committee recommended two other candidates ahead of Cummings.
Skobin told City News Service that he brings the necessary skill set to contribute to the commission.
"I believe the issues that the Fire Department is facing right now are the issues I've faced at the Police Commission," Skobin said. "I look forward to working with my fellow commissioners and the department in helping the commission fulfill its proper roll of civilian oversight."
The Fire Department has been the subject of intense media scrutiny in recent weeks over its use of misleading response time statistics, problems with its dispatch system and an abrupt change in the department's policy on releasing basic details about emergency responses.
"Firefighters are dedicated people who go into dangers that most people would never dream of doing," Skobin said. "Part of the job of the commission is helping them get the proper resources and have a disciplinary system and other processes that are predictable and that work."
Skobin described himself as an independent voice on the Police Commission, willing to disagree with Police Department leadership. Skobin recently cast the commission's only vote opposing Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck's proposal to relax the department's policy for impounding the cars of unlicensed drivers.
Los Angeles Police Protective League President Tyler Izen called Skobin's move a huge loss for the Police Commission.
"Having Alan Skobin move from the Police to the Fire Commission is like Albert Pujols going from the Cardinals to the Angels, it is a game changer," said Izen, who heads the union representing the LAPD's rank and file officers. "Alan's intellect and expertise on law enforcement matters will be missed by LAPD officers."
Skobin was first appointed to the Police Commission by then-Mayor James K. Hahn in 2003 and was the only commissioner kept on the board by Villaraigosa when he took office in 2005.
Skobin is vice president and general counsel at Galpin Motors.
To pay for the restoration of six ambulances "in areas of the city that need it most," Villaraigosa encouraged the City Council to use money from the city's reserve fund.
"These added vehicles will be instrumental in ensuring the continued reliability of the department's emergency response system," Villaraigosa said.