Police Chief Daryl F. Gates, under fire from minority leaders over a study showing that officers respond slower to emergencies in South-Central Los Angeles, revealed new numbers Tuesday that suggest markedly lower police response times citywide, particularly in poorer areas.
Gates said the city-commissioned study, which indicated that officers on the average took 12.25 minutes to reach emergency scenes, was based on "dated" information gathered between July, 1986, and June, 1987.
Last week, police officers took an average of 8.2 minutes to respond to emergencies--a 33% drop in the average cited by Public Administration Service, a Virginia-based think-tank that produced the $183,000 report examining how the department deploys its patrol forces.
Contrary to the study's findings, Gates said that his officers last month actually responded faster in heavily minority South and Central Los Angeles neighborhoods than they did in West Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, where whites are in the majority.
Questioned by reporters before he entered a Police Commission meeting, Gates displayed a computer printout showing that for the month of January, average response times in the South Bureau had dropped to 8.1 minutes. Valley Bureau times averaged 8.3 minutes; West Bureau, 8.7 minutes; and Central Bureau, 7.1 minutes.
The chief attributed the reductions to recent improvements in dispatching procedures and new strategies that have helped keep more patrol cars on the streets, but he did not elaborate.
He defended the department as doing "an equitable job" policing all of Los Angeles and criticized the city's news media for "contributing to all this divisiveness . . . many of your assumptions (about the study) were incorrect."
"It's a good study, but much of it is not valid," Gates said.
The study, released last week, found that the slowest of the the department's emergency response times, 12.8 minutes, was in the South Bureau, compared to 11.4 minutes in the Valley Bureau. Response times in the West Bureau averaged 12.3 minutes, while those in Central Bureau took 12.5 minutes.
Gates' response to the deployment study came after more than 200 demonstrators gathered in front of the the Police Department's Parker Center headquarters demanding that he scrap the department's deployment policy--one of the study's primary recommendations.
The protesters, including several prominent black clergymen and leaders of more than a dozen black civic groups, heatedly but peacefully insisted that Gates reduce response times by immediately placing more officers in black and Latino neighborhoods.
Chanting "No harassment, more protection," the protesters, led by Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), accused Gates of favoring more affluent neighborhoods over those in South-Central Los Angeles. Waters charged that the Police Department is often unresponsive to citizens' complaints of drug dealing in black residential neighborhoods, and that it treats complaining citizens as if they were criminal suspects.
"This community has always supported the police . . .," said Waters, whose district stretches from Watts to Lynwood and Southgate. "It is an insult to be treated the way we are being treated."
Other black leaders were hardly satisfied with Gates' contention that average police response times in South-Central Los Angeles are much lower than those disclosed last week.
Mark Ridley-Thomas, executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, cited a situation last week in which the Police Department allegedly took 16 minutes before putting a caller in touch with an officer to take down information on a serious car accident that had just occurred.
"The problems remain and I think the Police Department would be hard-pressed to refute that fact," Ridley-Thomas said.
Gates, nonetheless, said he is continuing to review the deployment study and will make no decisions about its recommendations until after March 8, when a public hearing before the Police Commission has been scheduled on the matter.
Police Commission President Robert M. Talcott assured Waters and others at a commission meeting Tuesday that "We will not sit on this. We intend to take action within a week after we take public comment."
Meanwhile, a local American Civil Liberties Union official said Tuesday that her organization intends to file a lawsuit within the next two weeks against the Police Department on the issue of officer deployment.
"The (deployment study) showed what we knew it would show," said Ramona Ripston, executive director of the ACLU's Southern California chapter "There is an overwhelming pattern of discrimination in the way this department deploys it officers."
Gates shook his head when told later of the ACLU's intentions.
"Everybody sues me for everything else," Gates said. "Why not deployment?"