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911 CALLS MAY RATE MORE USE OF SIRENS.

Byline: Ryan Oliver Staff Writer

Concerned about slowing emergency-response times - especially in the San Fernando Valley - authorities are considering a policy change that would allow police officers to use their lights and sirens on more calls.

The proposed change would eliminate a hybrid dispatch designation known as Code 2-High, which indicates that a situation is urgent but not immediately life-threatening.

By classifying more situations as Code 3 - an emergency requiring immediate action - authorities say they could get help to the scene sooner and shorten average response times in the process.

``Our response time in the Valley is over 10 minutes, and that's not acceptable,'' said City Councilman Dennis Zine. ``The traffic is getting worse, and the (patrol cars) can't get to the calls in time. These are serious calls where people are in desperate need of police service.''

The Los Angeles Police Department's Valley Bureau averaged 11.2 minutes for an emergency call last year, compared with 9.8 minutes in 2001.

While North Hollywood's response time averaged 9.6 minutes and the Van Nuys division's 9.8 minutes, the West Valley, Devonshire and Foothill divisions' average was 12 minutes per call. Citywide, the average was 10.7 minutes.

LAPD officials have said they want to bring the citywide average down to eight minutes.

Zine, a retired LAPD traffic sergeant and current reserve officer, said more calls should be dispatched as Code 3, allowing officers to use lights and sirens, exceed the speed limit and run red lights.

Instead, a crime such as a serious assault or a hit-and-run crash with injuries is typically designated Code 2-High. On those calls, officers do not use lights and sirens and must obey all rules of the road.

Dispatchers must assign a Code-2 High call immediately and a simple Code-2 call within 15 minutes of receiving it.

``We want to ensure the coding of these calls is appropriate,'' said LAPD Cmdr. Michel Moore. ``We're asking ourselves, if we're defining it as an emergency call for service, are we responding to it as such?

``If we have a vicious animal call, and the animal's really vicious and threatening people in the neighborhood, the public probably doesn't expect an officer to stop at a red light.''

Moore said department officials are still in preliminary discussions of revamping dispatch policies. Any change would likely need the approval of the Los Angeles Police Commission.

``I think response time is going to weigh heavily in the areas we want to improve upon in 2004,'' Moore said. ``The issue of seeing an increase in response time while we're seeing a decrease in crime does concern the chief.''

Eliminating the Code 2-High designation would force dispatchers to draw a sharper distinction between emergency and urgency calls, said Capt. Andy Smith, head of LAPD's Communications Division, which oversees its 911 operators.

``We're going to provide them with extra training on exactly what they need to do so they can practice it before we implement it,'' he said.

Smith said Los Angeles is one of the few cities that use a Code 2-High designation, and he was unclear about when it was added. He said it came about as a way to prioritize Code 2 calls because of the sheer number received daily.

``It's been around for as long as anybody can remember,'' he said. ``We've done a lot of research, and we found most other places just use a Code 2 or Code 3.''

More Code 3 calls wouldn't create an increased threat to the public from speeding patrol cars, Smith said, noting that drivers of ambulances and fire trucks respond daily to calls with lights and sirens.

``With more Code 3 calls, it's going to be more of a routine. Instead of an officer saying, oh my gosh, I have a Code 3, (one) will just say, OK, I have another Code 3; let's just get there as safely as possible.''

But Gerald Silver, president of the Homeowners of Encino, fears increased risk to the public.

``It's not so much the fault of the police, but it's the driving public not anticipating a lot of Code 3 calls. They're going to be surprised with police cars running signals.''

But Silver said he applauds the department's attempt to reduce response times, although he believes the realistic way to do that is by having more patrol officers.

``It's a step in the right direction if they're going to make inroads on response times, but I have reservations about the way they're going to do that,'' Silver said. ``The proper way to improve response times is not to have police cars chasing across the Valley faster, but by putting more (patrol) cars out there and having them closer by when a response is needed.

``But this is an economics issue. The City Council does not want to give (LAPD) more money, so I suppose this is a compromise.''

Police Commissioner Alan Skobin said he favors the proposed dispatch changes and believes it will be done responsibly.

``If we do more Code 3s, you want to do more training and more procedures on policies about entering intersections,'' Skobin said. ``I anticipate there's going to be significant training and review.

``I think this will have a particularly positive impact in the Valley because of our street miles, distance and the traffic,'' he said.

Ryan Oliver, (818) 713-3669

ryan.oliver(at)dailynews.com

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REVISING DISPATCH CODES

SOURCE: Los Angeles Police Department

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Jan 26, 2004
Words:913
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