Thursday, March 22, 2012

If Your Projections Are Based On Hypotheticals Should You Consider Them Real?

This isn't necessarily about police, but it brings up an interesting topic. There was a piece over at the Los Angeles Times that looked at a controversy that developed after the Los Angeles Fire Department admitted that they were using "projections" based on "hypothetical" staffing levels in reporting their emergency response times to their City Council. 
Using hypothetical models that assumed full staffing, the reports calculated that the Fire Department would have arrived on the scene of medical emergencies within five minutes nearly 80% of the time in 2008. The same analysis showed that after the proposed cuts the figure would decline only slightly.

In reality, officials say, the department met the five-minute goal only 64% of the time in 2008, and now meets it only 60% of the time.
It's one thing to use projections to try to determine what might occur in the future. For instance, at my department we use projections of future population growth to try plan for budget and manpower that we may need down the road. But it's a bit odd to use projections to determine past numbers, especially since all you had to do was measure and report your past performance. Apparently I'm not the only one that thinks this is weird as the story quotes one LA city official with this great quote:
"This is like 'The Twilight Zone,' " Yusef Robb said. "How do you project the past?"
The big takeaway from this is that when you fudge the numbers or use some other statistical chicanery to try to make your performance appear better than it actually is, you're going to look worse than if you just owned up to your real performance shortcomings. It would seem that in this case, their reported response time is as illusory as the imaginary firefighters they used to achieve their model's staffing levels.


  1. Very nice Scott. I enjoy reading your blog. I know this is a little off the wall...but have you ever considered researching more and writing about The business side of that fascinates me along with the legality of it. Keep up the good work.

  2. Bryan, Thanks for the suggestion but I'm not really interested in those kinds of sites. They're using public disclosure laws to make money off web ads. The bulk data requests get to be a real pain for gov't agencies to deal with. I would probably have very little good to say about them.


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