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Council Members Skeptical of LAFD Information Policy PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richie Duchson, City News Service   
Thursday, 22 March 2012 01:52

LOS ANGELES – Two members of the Los Angeles City Council's Public Safety Committee reacted with skepticism to a new policy by the Los Angeles Fire Department to withhold basic information about fires, medical calls or other emergencies it responds to.

LAFD Chief Brian L. Cummings issued a statement on March 20 saying the department was limiting the information – such as incident locations and injury information – to conform with the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, a medical privacy law.

City Councilmember Mitch Englander, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said the new policy does not seem to make sense. He called a special committee meeting for 2 p.m. on Friday, March 23, to discuss the issue and other problems facing the LAFD.

"I understand that under HIPAA laws, there is some information that should be withheld in terms of names. That's one issue. But not disclosing specific addresses and locations, I have a real problem with, particularly from a matter of public safety.

"If we have to alert people or the media that there's a major incident going on, people want to avoid the area, we have to do evacuations of the area, because of a bomb threat or something else, I don't know how you withhold that information," Englander added.

The abrupt policy change came as the department has been criticized in recent weeks for misleading city officials about its response times. The department has also disclosed recent dispatch problems that led to several 9-1-1 calls going immediately unanswered.

Public Safety Committee Vice Chair Jan Perry called the new policy "shocking," adding that, "it's critically important on major incidents to share location information."

If the department is trying to cover up dispatch problems, Perry said, "we cannot allow that to stand."

The department policy began over the weekend, when the LAFD stopped providing locations for emergency calls such as fires and traffic collisions.

On March 20, the department sent out a media alert that it had doused a house fire, but failed to provide a location of the blaze. A department spokesman later declined to provide a location on a collision between a food truck and a car in downtown Los Angeles, citing the new policy.

The department appeared to ease up on the policy slightly on Wednesday, March 21, providing a street name and block number where an electrical fire occurred, and confirming an evacuation that took place at West Adams Preparatory High School, west of downtown due to a nearby electrical problem.

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