Thursday, December 14, 2006

False burglar alarms drain police resources

The next time your local police chief says he needs to hire more cops, ask him (or her) how much officer time the department wastes chasing false burglar alarms - I'll bet the answer would surprise you.

Responding to false alarms operated by private companies at homes and businesses are the number one type of police service calls in Plano and Richardson, according to a recent analysis by the Texas House Law Enforcement Committee, topping 911 calls and traffic accidents as the main way police in those cities spend their time. False alarms were the second most common type of police call in Garland, and the third most common in Irving.

Those were the Texas towns included with 16 other US cities in a comparison chart from 2003 labeled Appendix E (p. 39) as part of the Law Enforcement Committee's recently released interim report. (In all cities surveyed false alarms were among the top three types of police service calls.)

Think about it - officers in Plano and Richardson spent more time responding to false burglar alarms than any other departmental function!

An astonishing amount of police power is wasted essentially subsidizing the bottom line of these private businesses. In Plano, for example, police responded to 18,716 false alarms in 2003. This is in a town that puts about 50 officers on the street each day, so nearly 10% of the department's manpower is being wasted chasing false alarms.

I've never understood this setup, but the problem is ubiquitous - the rate of false alarms is typically around 98-99%, and even when it's not a "false" alarm, the likelihood police will catch anyone is virtually nil. But taxpayers subsidize private alarm companies year in and year out, even though their entire "service" is to flip a switch that calls the cops.

I'm a fan of "verified response" for private alarm companies - I think they should be required to send a security guard to check if something's wrong before calling the cops. Right now taxpayers subsidize the cost of private alarm services up front, and they don't appear to improve public safety much at all.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

It would still be a hot button issue because people don't understand that the alarms basically never catch crooks. It'd almost need to be done statewide to give locals political cover. Mostly rich people, business owners and the upper middle class can afford alarms and since they're the ones with political clout, I don't see how this idea can ever fly.

That said, come to think of it, I've never in my life heard of a burglar caught because police responded to a private burglar alarm. Has anybody?

markm said...

It's occasionally happened with banks - but those security systems have some extra gimmicks, and bank vaults have a way of holding the crooks' attention for quite a few minutes...

Michael Jagger said...

Given that 98% of alarms are false (and the majority of those are caused by user error), most Police departments throughout North America have implemented by-laws that (understandably) preclude alarm companies from calling them directly after an alarm. For fear of being completely cut-off by the Police, the alarm industry has adopted practices such as "Enhanced Call Verification" (ECV) which means that before requesting a Police dispatch, the alarm company will try to reach the home/business owner at two different phone numbers.

Under the system here in Vancouver, when a home is burglarized the first thing that happens is that the alarm company will call the premises to check if the alarm was false. If no answer, they must then reach an emergency contact who will agree to go to the premises. Only then are the Police notified. Obviously, by then the burglars are likely long gone and a quick police response really does not matter anymore. The net result is that all alarms are treated as false until proven otherwise… of course, by the time you have proven otherwise the crime is long over. So why bother?

I have written about this topic a fair bit on my blog...

The only purpose of an alarm is to generate an immediate response. At the same time, any reasonable person/taxpayer would agree that it would not be financially possible for the Police, in any jurisdiction, to provide that kind of response to all alarms... so why bother at all? Private response, when done properly, is the difference that makes a burglar alarm effective. As we explain to our clients here, our firm is not a replacement for the Police, rather, our 5 minute guaranteed response helps them get better value FROM the Police because it ensures that the Police are only being called to real events where they are able to offer some value.

Our firm provides a guaranteed 5 minute response time to client alarms in Vancouver, B.C. and although we still see the same 98% false alarm rate, we do catch crooks. More importantly, because we provide a guaranteed response service (that costs about $15.00 more per month than a typical monitoring only alarm service, plus a response fee that is less than the Police charge) we are able to help our clients get maximium value from their alarm by showing them how to five minute proof their possessions.

The security industry has long gotten away with providing an incomplete service that, when you consider the cost to taxpayers and wasted Police time, is quite irresponsible. The security industry is the only industry I can think of where you can charge for a service that, in order to offer any value, relies exclusively on a Government agency over which you have zero control.

michael jagger said...

Sorry... I messed up the links in my comment. Here they are again:

we do catch crooks.

five minute proof

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Security Cameras said...

Yeah this has always been the case. There needs to be an update to alarm systems that really can compensate for false alarms. It really makes them leary to rush to your home when most are false alarms.