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Baca downplays cash cut, response time link

September 6, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
From street crime to traffic accidents to missing persons, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department now struggles to meet demand as it is hampered by budget cuts. Scaling back on overtime is slowing response time. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca is downplaying a possible link between budget cuts and the apparent increase in the amount of time it takes for deputies to respond to emergency calls.

"The truth is we are almost a minute later on average than we were last year," said Baca.

In 2009, the average response time for 911 calls was 4.9 minutes. The month after budget cuts began, the average climbed to 5.5 minutes and last month rose to almost 6 minutes.

Baca said one possible reason is staffing changes. There is the same number of radio patrol cars on the street as before. But to cut costs, personnel normally in desk jobs are taking the place of patrol deputies to minimize the deputies' overtime costs. Baca said the problem is that the replacement personnel is not as efficient in field.

"He may not have familiarity with those streets. He may not know where there is a construction site going on and he might have to go around that construction site. Whereas if he knew exactly that there was one, he would go right to the location in a more expeditious way," said Baca.

The sheriff's department told the L.A. County Board of Supervisors that it aims to reduce costs by $128 million by June 2011. It already saved $32 million since June.

But there is a price in quality of service. The Aero bureau reported that 100 calls for service in a 2-week period went unanswered because the air service overtime was cut. Some of those calls were serious, such as assaults with a deadly weapon, disturbances and shot fired calls.

To reverse the trend, the sheriff said there will be more attention to deployment, making sure patrols stay close to their assigned sectors, which would reduce travel time.

Despite that added one minute response time, the sheriff's department said no lives have been endangered. Officials said the homicide rate is down 20 percent and the violent crime rate is down 4.5 percent.


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