Friday, April 24, 2009

LAPD Code 3 Policy Revised

The LA City Council today formally approved the LAPD's new Code 3 policy, which gives all officers discretion in deciding when to respond to a call with lights and siren. Until today, the rules under Chief Bratton's administration had dispatchers assigning one patrol unit a Code 3 response based upon the nature of the 911 call (or request from field units/allied agencies). Other units, including back-up units to emergency calls that already had one unit responding Code 3, were required to respond Code 2 (no lights or sirens). Earlier this month, a council committee had approved changes to the policy.

So, effective immediately, it's up to individual officers to decide what calls will be handled Code 3 and multiple units can respond to the same call Code 3, as well. So, starting tonight, expect to see a lot more LAPD black and whites blasting around the city Code 3.

I remember listening to my scanner 20 years ago (when I had an old Sony brick that I bought from Sporty's Pilot Shop and could only tune in to LAPD's 154.830 HOTSHOT freq.) and being terrified/horrified at the number of seemingly life-and-death level calls that the LAPD dispatchers would send out "Code 2 High" or even Code 2. Back then, it seemed the only thing that warranted a Code 3 response were actual shootings in progress. Otherwise, everything was a much slower response.

When Chief Bratton a few years ago liberalized the Code 3 policy to include pretty much every serious crime you'd expect a cop to respond to with his lights and sirens turned on, I thought that was a huge improvement. Now, if you called 911 in LA, you would get at least one unit running hot (and fast) to come to your aid. This improved response times, raised morale within the department and has helped residents overall.

Allowing more units to respond to more calls more quickly = a good thing overall. It eliminates the dangerous practice of "Code 2.5," which has officers basically driving in an emergency manner without their warning lights activated.

But mark my words: This new policy will be frozen the minute the first LAPD unit responding Code 3 to some bullshit call gets involved in a serious accident--with either civilians or fellow officers. Part of the problem is leaving things like this up to the discretion of patrol officers plays directly into the few bad apples among thousands of good ones theory. This whole thing will be undone by one or two boneheads who drive like the idiots they are.

Ironically, the City Council and LAPD brass pushed for the change because the cost of litigating cases that stemmed from accidents involving LAPD units going Code 2.5 has hit $11 million in the past three years. Only two council members opposed the change--one of them, Ex-LAPD Chief Bernard Parks. I don't really care for Mr. Parks as a councilman and he wasn't a great police chief either, but he's clearly on the right track here and knows what his former officers are capable of. He's rightly worried that putting the greater responsibility of emergency driving along LA's busy streets directly in the hands of the rank-and-file is a recipe for disaster.

Let's just see how long it takes for one to happen.

photo: flickr

Wilshire Mess Incoming

Every year, on a certain day in late April, Wilshire Boulevard in the Miracle-Mile area gets completely fucked by the thousands of Armenian protesters who descend on the street to scream, wave signs and flags and drive around in circles honking their horns and displaying huge Armenia flags and banners to voice their displeasure over what was either a "genocide" or what wasn't. Depends on who you ask.

Today is that day. Expect the LAPD and DOT to have their hands full beginning in a few hours and expect to find an alternative route if your travels take you along Wilshire during the evening commute.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

LAFD and Overtime

Earlier this week, the Daily News, which the recession has decimated even worse than it has the L.A. Times, wrote its annual LAFD-earns-too-much-overtime piece. First, let me say bravo to reporter Jason Kandel who compiled the piece and an accompanying database that proves as interesting as his article. I am sure the entire project was a gigantic pain in the ass.

The database is basically a searchable list of how much overtime nearly LAFD member has earned since 2000. I am of a few different minds regarding the issue of fire overtime. On one hand, I think that firefighters (and ESPECIALLY paramedics) deserve to be well compensated for their efforts. I won't go through the litany of reasons supporting this because they include all the common cliches ("lives on the line," "available 24/7 to answer the call," "danger" etc. etc.). These are all valid reasons.

And from my experience in Public Safety, I can say that the overtime often made many parts of the job totally worth it. There was something refreshing about being compensated not only for my time, but for my EXTRA time and giving me some incentive to either work an extra unplanned shift, or agree to stay late if my relief was running late or called in sick etc. etc. Being paid for the exact amount of time you are at work is--in my mind--inherently fair.

The extra cash was always nice come pay-day and beyond. If my expenses were a little higher one month, I could always work an extra shift or two to help balance that out. If I wanted to buy a plane ticket to jet off to somewhere far away and exotic I simply worked a few extra shifts to earn the cash. For folks with families and complicated expenses (divorce, sick kids, mortgages etc.) there's a dependence on that overtime cash flow.

The trade off was that I was stuck working those extra days. I worked a few different places that made overtime attractive and the last stop on my public safety tour was an agency that worked 24-hour shifts (like the LAFD and LACoFD). So while I got paid nicely for a full extra shift, it meant that I was away from home for two full days and then only had one day to recover before going back to work on my regular shift. In LA with the modified kelly schedule, that often means guys and gals who are working overtime can be gone from home for as long as three or four days at a stretch--something that 9-to-5'ers might have a hard time comprehending.

Granted, that time at work includes getting paid time and a half to eat, sleep, watch TV, train and enjoy some ice cream, but still, it's days away from family, friends, errands and whatever else you might do on your down time. Overtime pay helps make an inherently dangerous job more "worth it" and allows SoCal residents (and those who work and live elsewhere) to better afford the high cost of living in this part of the world.

On the OTHER HAND, there are guys in the LAFD (and elsewhere, but since there aren't handy databases elsewhere) who abuse the shit out of this opportunity. And the LAFD brass (and union, natch) argue that even though there are 120 vacant positions that have been effectively frozen, paying the overtime is more cost effective than hiring more firefighters.

As for the most egregious offenders, a few names keep popping up year-after-year including FF/PM Alan Naeole, who is based at the extremely cush Air Ops station out in Van Nuys. He used to rake in the dough at the retirement house in Bel-Air at FS 71. Last year, he took home $164,785 in overtime and $100,000 in base salary. Two words: Fucking Ridiculous. The number one overtime earner on the DN's list is FF/PM Donn D. Thompson, who took home more than $173,000 in overtime (which is down from $206,000 in 2006). All this while "working" at the do-nothing FS19 in Brentwood.

The article--which I recommend--raises the various points from all sides including the outraged taxpayer groups, the LAFD Chief who's on the defensive and the fire union president who is outraged that anyone is outraged. And in a year when the city is facing a $500 million budget shortfall that could increase to $1 billion by next year and there are layoffs city-wide it seems like an especially bad time for the guys to be raking in such obscene amounts of dough.

Especially, as Kandel notes, since the city has spent 60% more on overtime in the last 10 years while growing the department by only 17%. And remember, a lot of these old-timers (FF/PM's, not even officers!) are making $100,000 as a BASE salary owing to their seniority (not to mention any guys who are still on the early retirement racket).

So there's an aging department with guys who are already doing just fine on their base; probably socking away hundreds of thousands of dollars of deferred comp over the course of their careers; getting excellent medical benefits and life insurance policies as well as an extremely generous pension payout (for life). Not only is this a recipe for more municipal and state fiscal pain, but it makes it hard to garner any sympathy for the guys who are taking home outsized overtime checks.

I know as well as anyone that there's almost no better feeling in the world than seeing a big, red fire truck or ambulance blasting to the scene of an emergency on the rare occasions that the average citizen has to dial 911. But I think the LAFD is probably in for a rude wake up call down the line when various items that have become sacred cows over the past few years (like EMS captains in every district, ambulances in every station, four-man engines, and multiple unit responses to even basic EMT calls, et. al) begin to disappear.

Back in Business...

So I've been out of town for the last four weekends in a row (and many weekdays, too) to places near and far. Didn't see too much in the way of public safety action on my travels except a pretty serious looking bunch of dudes who are "volunteer" firefighters in the fine city of Kyoto, Japan; some crazy Japanese ambulances rolling Code 3 through the streets of Tokyo; and a whole bunch of Massachusetts State Troopers doing their radar thing along the Mass. Pike this last weekend. Luckily, my turquoise Toyota Corolla didn't actually go fast enough to be a threat.

A few items on my mind:

1. It is fucking hot outside. Like mid-summer, shrivel up and die hot. Not only is it wreaking havoc on my backyard plants, but it's causing the scanner to jump and bump like it's mid-August. Last night saw a cavalcade of the usual mid-summer bullshit with drunks, fights, robberies and a few little brushers and stucture fires thrown in for good measure.

2. I missed two incidents of some note on the fire side: A big tarpot lit-off at a City facility in North Hollywood on April 10. Though it put on a good show with lots of smoke and fire, the location was literally right around the corner from FS60, so folks were on scene fast and things got knocked down. The second was this big-time fire at a 10,000 sq.-foot mansion out in unincorporated Chatsworth the other night. LA City, County and Ventura County units rolled into. The fire was blasting through the roof when units arrived (some good photos on LAFD's flickr, and probably elsewhere on the Internets). One FF suffered a broken ankle and another was txspt'd with general malaise. I guess the homeowners have a big winery operation and the house was a total loss. With the various water pressure problems et al., the firefight resembled one of those big multi-agency vollie responses out in the boonies somewhere, where it takes nine fire agencies 12 hours to put down a house fire. Other news outlets are reporting today that the initial alarm call was delayed because the home's security system hadn't been re-programmed to dial the "1-818" 10-digit sequence of numbers that went into effect last week.

3. A bunch of random fatal fires within LA, including a luxury Motor Home in South LA and an old man in a house in the classy Brentwood neighborhood of the city.

4. The LAFD has filled the vacant PSO position down in OCD on the "A" shift with a firefighter named Devin Gales. I didn't catch an official announcement of his appointment on the LAFD blog, but I may have missed it. Mr. Gales replaces Ron Myers who promoted to Captain I and is now working at Station 90 out in sweltering Van Nuys.

Friday, April 03, 2009


...on a jet plane for a faraway land tonight. Probably on hiatus for about a week or so...

Stay safe! C6C