THE BLOG
06/27/2012 05:29 pm ET | Updated Aug 27, 2012

10-Year-Old Fire Audit Ignored by Controller and City Council -- Public Safety Crisis in L.A. Continues

How many opportunities to lead will Controller Greuel allow to pass by?

Ten years ago, back in January 2002, then-Controller Laura Chick audited the Los Angeles Fire Department and sounded the alarm around LAFD response times.

Unfortunately, our elected officials who are responsible for providing a safe community were not listening in 2002, and for the next 10 years ignored continuing signs of a crisis until the close proximity of the 2013 mayor's election forced them to respond.

Council members Eric Garcetti and Jan Perry were recently criticized for voting for budget cuts to the LAFD which caused LAFD response times to grow making Los Angeles a more dangerous city.

Common sense says that if you close fire stations and move engines away from neighborhoods the chances of harm to residents increases.

While the irresponsible actions of Garcetti and Perry warranted their criticism, it is the more recent inaction by Controller Wendy Greuel that should leave Angelenos outraged and concerned for their safety.

It is well-known that an article written by Austin Beutner, a former mayoral candidate, and a "citizen's audit" conducted by Cary Brazeman, who is running for Controller, exposed the fact that the LAFD responds to emergencies in under five minutes less than 60 percent of the time. National standards call for response times of under five minutes 90 percent of the time. Making the response time scandal worse was the fact that LAFD data was discovered to be faulty and misleading.

In order to restore credibility to the LAFD, an embarrassed and humiliated Mayor Villaraigosa appointed nationally renowned data expert Jeffrey Godown to analyze the faulty data and create an updated system enabling the LAFD to determine the staffing needs necessary to meet the national response time standard. The now-famous fire response time scandal of 2012 would indicate that Controller Chick's call for an updated system 10 years ago was ignored.

According to Controller Greuel's website, "performance and operational audits of City departments and programs are mandated by the City Charter, and assess whether government programs or functions are efficiently and effectively achieving their goals."

After the most recent response time story broke, Controller Greuel conducted an audit reaching many of the same findings already uncovered in Brazeman's audit.


Clearly, the LAFD goal of responding to emergencies in five minutes or less is not being met. The accounting of LAFD response times has also been a serious failure, making our city more dangerous.

The Charter (Sec. 261) empowers Controller Greuel to "take charge" of any problematic accounting functions and to implement new standards and practices within any city department. Despite having a staff of over 130 taxpayer funded employees with extensive audit, data analysis and accounting experience, Controller Greuel did not act. Rather than using the powers of her office to help solve this important public safety crisis, the Controller sat on the sidelines, deferring to the Mayor and Fire Chief and leaving them to deal with the data catastrophe.

Within weeks of Godown's appointment, Godown publicly, and appropriately, criticized the lack of cooperation he received from the LAFD Chief. Godown told the Los Angeles Times that the LAFD failed to provide him with the resources necessary to do his job. To add insult to injury, Godown stated that right now the data being analyzed is not even accurate which prevents the LAFD from beginning the process of improving emergency response times for Los Angeles residents.

Once again Controller Greuel faced an opportunity to lead -- to step in and implement her authority under the Charter to "take charge" of the fledgling LAFD data -- to offer up her staff experienced in audit, data analysis and accounting practices to help solve the crisis. Yet, Greuel again sat it out.

Godown just announced that he is leaving his LAFD post after just three months to accept a job at UC San Francisco. Who will replace Godown? According to Mayoral spokesman Peter Sanders "the Fire Department will assign someone internally." Given the LAFD's prior history of using faulty data, the decision to replace Godown from within the LAFD is causing concern.

While that concern is understandable and indeed warranted, I remain optimistic that the LAFD will solve this crisis. Fortunately, newly-appointed Fire Commissioner Alan Skobin is now overseeing the effort which includes a panel of firefighters working with experts from the LAPD and the Rand Corporation. The taxpayer-funded Controller's office is noticeably absent.


Greuel's continued absence is not surprising. As former candidate Beutner pointed out in his March 20, 2012 Op Ed in the Huffington Post, as of March 20, not one of Greuel's 49 audits was a performance audit of the fire department. "Public safety doesn't even make her top 50," wrote Beutner.

What is surprising -- indeed shocking -- is that back in 2002, then-Controller Laura Chick, Greuel's predecessor, published an audit finding that:

Critical improvements are needed, however, in the area of data analysis. The very data being analyzed cannot be completely validated or verified by the Department or anyone else, because the LAFD uses an outdated, nonverifiable system to track response times. This lack of ability to verify information means that the Department, despite its genuine effort, cannot with total accuracy track and measure performance in the critical area of response time, and cannot use the data accurately as a basis for resource allocation and deployment.

That 2002 conclusion by Controller Chick was the same conclusion reached by Jeffrey Godown just days ago. In other words, for 10 long years, our elected officials, including mayoral candidates Greuel, Garcetti and Perry, have known about the response time crisis and allowed it to continue.

It is a fact that Angelenos have lost their lives as a direct result of such irresponsible inaction. On September 1, 2009 (just two months after Controller Greuel moved from the City Council to the Controller's office), the LA Times wrote a story with this headline: "3-year-old's drowning underscores L.A. Fire Department budget cuts."

Greuel, Garcetti and Perry, all elected officials, allowed the fire response times to grow and to reach crisis levels until the close proximity of the 2013 mayor's election forced them to respond.