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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Southern California

Villaraigosa Orders LAFD to Disclose Information

LAFD received backlash Wednesday from Mayor Villaraigosa for withholding response-call information.

Mayor Villaraigosa told the LAFD that they are not to withhold basic information about responses to medical emergencies(Photo courtesy AP).
Mayor Villaraigosa told the LAFD that they are not to withhold basic information about responses to medical emergencies(Photo courtesy AP).
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told the Los Angles Fire Department to stop withholding basic information about responses to medical emergencies.

Villaraigosa issued a statement Wednesday to the L.A. fire chief to, "immediately resume releasing information that provides LAFD incident specifics without violating federal law."

This decision comes on the heels of a LAFD policy enacted Tuesday which allowed the fire department to limit information such as incident location and injury information, so the department will be in accordance with HIPPAA, a medical privacy law.

The abrupt policy change came as the department had 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.

Members of the city council's public safety committee reacted with skepticism to the new policy, saying it did not make sense.

"I understand 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," said Councilman Mitch Englander.

Englander said the timing of the new policy comes at a time when the government is looking for more accountability.

"Now's not the time to come out with something that they want to keep from the public, no matter what that is." said Englander

Fire Chief Cummings said the department is only permitted to release protected health information for the purpose of treatment, billing and operations under HIPAA rule and is seeking the council of the city attorney's office.

However Chief Deputy City Attorney William Carter said his office has not changed its legal opinion in recent years on how to abide by medical privacy laws.

"The city attorney's office does not have a practice or pattern of ordering media blackouts," Cater said. "We don't give orders to the police chief, and we don't give orders to the fire chief."

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