Data expert says LAFD's approach needs radical change
A nationally recognized expert brought in to fix the Los Angeles Fire Department's response-time reporting problems said Tuesday that the agency failed to provide him with the resources to do his job, and he called for a radical change in the way top fire officials approach data analysis.
Jeffrey Godown, who was brought in by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa amid a growing controversy over the accuracy of LAFD performance reports, told the Fire Commission that the agency has not focused enough effort on correcting the problem.
His comments provided a rare inside look at institutional problems that have bedeviled the department as it has struggled to accurately and consistently answer a fundamental question: How fast do rescuers get to victims in medical emergencies?
Godown, who began his review more than two months ago, said the department never designated a person to work with him full time. And it was not until Monday that fire officials assigned two civilian experts to help analyze problems with dispatch-time calculations produced by department computers, he said.
"I would have, quite frankly, liked to have somebody assigned to me in the beginning of April," Godown told the oversight panel.
He said the department's command staff needed to understand the importance of data analysis, saying he was told that if response times were off by several seconds that "it's really not that big a deal."
"There has to be a complete overhaul of the mentality of the command staff of why this is in place," Godown said. "Being partly right does not work in this business. ... That data is the resource you use to make command decisions to run your department.
A former Los Angeles Police Department officer, Godown was the guru behind the agency's statistical crime-tracking system known as Compstat. He was hired this year to trouble-shoot Fire Department data after officials admitted they had disseminated performance reports that made it appear that crews were getting to emergencies faster than they actually were.
At Tuesday's meeting, the commission voted to create a panel to fix the department's data problems and create a sophisticated data analysis system similar to Compstat. The panel would include firefighters and draw on experts from the LAPD and the Rand Corp, according to Commissioner Alan Skobin, who is overseeing the effort.
Skobin said Fire Chief Brian Cummings is totally committed to the effort. The chief was not at the meeting because he was attending the funeral of a firefighter who died while off duty.
"We have the full support and buy-in of the fire chief," Skobin said.
In an interview after the meeting, Godown said he had asked Cummings in April to assign someone to work with him and did not know why the chief hadn't done so.
Godown told the commission he is leaving Tuesday to take a job at UC San Francisco. He said he planned to continue working as a consultant with the Fire Department and the new panel that will focus on data analysis.
— Robert J. Lopez
Photo: Jeffrey Godown, a former LAPD crime data analysis director, in 2009. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times