Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cutting police costs? 'Verified response' for alarms gets more benefit from same number of officers

The City of Austin has put up a page asking citizens to prioritize budget reductions, and reducing overtime and police pay were the top suggestions for the police department. Via their feedback mechanism, I replied:
If you're talking about cutting officers or eliminating overtime, here's a suggestion to put more officers on the street essentially for free: Implement verified response for burglar alarms. About 98-99% of residential burglar alarm callas are false alarms and nearly all the rest of the time the suspect is long gone when officers arrive. Implementing verified response would be like expanding the police force by 10% or more, allowing officers to focus on more important tasks. The reason this suggestion is free to the city, incidentally, is that it essentially eliminates a special-interest subsidy to the private alarm industry that's unjustified based on any cost-benefit analysis. It also would create jobs because the alarm companies must hire staff to verify alarms.
Salt Lake City's verified response program provides one of the best examples of this strategic redeployment of scarce officer resources: "Average private guard response times to alarm activations has been much faster than the previous average police response times. Average police response time to other high priority calls for service dropped from five to three minutes." Before Salt Lake implemented verified response, "False alarm calls were draining patrol resources and often created a significant backlog of calls."

I've not seen comparable data for Austin, but in many cities including Plano and Richardson, false alarms are the single most common category of police calls, more frequent than things like 911 calls or traffic accidents. Freed from reacting to unverified alarms, police could focus more on crime fighting, plus local employment gets a boost from alarm companies hiring more staff.

There will inevitably be citizens reacting out of fear who claim that nothing but police reacting to their burglar alarm will do, even if private security would get there sooner. Indeed, as soon as verified response is proposed, you can expect private alarm companies to engage in all sorts of fear mongering communcations with their customers urging them to oppose the idea. In reality, only a tiny number of arrests result from many thousands of residential burglar alarm calls, the false-positive rate is off the charts, and private homeowners are safer with private security getting their quicker, focusing police responses on verified emergencies.

If budget cuts reach so deep that police overtime, eliminating a cadet class, etc, are on the table, Austin should simultaneously seek ways to maximize bang for the buck from the officers we can afford. For jurisdictions which can muster the political courage to make policy based on data instead of the irrational expectations of burglary alarm customers, implementing verified response is the cheapest, most straightforward way to boost police coverage without increasing costs.


Anonymous said...

I'd like to see less emphasis on pissant traffic stops. A general cessation of the relentless and costly pursuit of minor infractions would free up a lot of cops for the big stuff that needs doing, like murders, rapes, street performers, etc. The more cops you have, the more petty crime you have, since these days it's impossible for anyone to even drive to the store without breaking a law.

Anonymous said...

That page was a cluster. People didn't know whether they were voting for or against the budget item. The Greater Austin Creative Alliance (formerly ACoT) sent out an urgent plea about the co-sponsored projects in parks line items and ended up getting it spiked to the top of the list. So their advocacy against it being cut, got a huge number of votes FOR it being cut.

I wouldn't be surprised if an equal number of people misunderstood and were trying to list this as a priority.

Or maybe I'm just hoping that because I live in an area with crime.

South Austin Dude said...

Austin Fire Department, depending on its deployment level, will not respond to automatic fire alarm activations during periods where resources are being depleted, i.e., storms, a major fire, multiple incidents above a given threshold. For example, responses to fire alarm activations were denied during a previous storm because at the storm's height, AFD had 6 working structure fires, including an apartment building.

Essentially, the alarm company is told to contact the business owner/subscriber. Their is no FD incident history of a denied fire alarm response resulting in a structure fire during a period where the deployment level necessitated prioritizing calls for emergency services.

Pam said...

Here, Here! A great suggestion. I think most burglar alarms, whether they are for homes or cars are a waste of money. The police have better things to do than answer false alarms.

Pam said...

Would you mind if I borrow your suggestion and make it to the City of San Antonio when they start work on the 2011 Budget?

Anonymous said...

Define verified response.

MailDeadDrop said...

If verified is such a great idea, then let's apply it to all calls to the police. Think someone is getting beat up by a gang outside? Call the local security officer to get him to "verify" that an assault is in progress before we roll the cops. Afraid that dude in the parking lot is going to rape you? Get Johnny rent-a-cop to come over and assess the situation before we get the tazer-obsessed torturers on the scene.

MailDeadDrop said...

Oh and I forgot the best one: make sure verified response applies to SILENT BANK ROBBERY alarms, too. That should go over well.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Maildeaddrop, the difference is if you think somebody is getting beat up by a gang outside, they probably are. But if a residential burglar alarm goes off, 99% of the time it's a false alarm and most of the rest of the time the offender is gone when police get there.

Pam, feel free. That's sorta the point.

6:55, basically that means the alarm company must verify an offense has been committed before they call the police. Most do it with paid guards; I've heard reference to some systems with electronic verification, though I'm not sure how that works.

SoutAustinDude, the differnce, perhaps, is that false alarms for fire aren't as common as are burglar alarms. If they were we'd need a much larger fire department.

Mr. Anxiety said...

I could get behind this idea.

A Plano officer told me that if they get a "help, I'm home alone and someone is breaking into my house!" 911 call they'll come blazing in with their cruiser lights going and as fast as possible.

If you let your Brinkmann make the same call, they'll show up when they're finished with whatever they're doing now, driving the speed limit, lights off.

Mr. Anxiety said...

Wait... a Brinkmann is a smoker... well - ADT then... whatever ;-)

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Mr. Anxiety, under verified response, if an actual person called with "a 'help, I'm home alone and someone is breaking into my house!' 911 call," police not only would still "come blazing in with their cruiser lights going and as fast as possible," more of them would probably get there faster because they aren't diverted to false alarms. We're talking about (mostly false) automated alarms, not 911 calls for immediate help.

Anonymous said...

So if an alarm company has to wait because a burglar or worse rapist has broke in my house with a purpose and somehow got my spouse in the back room before 'verified response' is allowed, the cops will think that it is a 90% chance of a false alarm and might stop to fill up the car and get a coke before responding to the call?

But if a neighbor sees the same thing, that is verified response and things go well.
Good grief this is stupid!

Unknown said...

Alarm verification can be as simple as installing a two way voice system that connects the monitoring service to a microphone and speaker in the residence or office allowing the operator to hear if anything is really happening or using cameras to verify some one is actually in the building before calling the police. The issue is most consumers will not pay the extra cost to add these devices to their system. If such an ordinance existed (as it does in many cities) alarm users would have to obsorb this cost rather than the whole community.

APD861 said...

This is not the first time Verfied Response has been suggested to APD.
The idea was shot down in 2007 before it was even reviewed by the Command Staff. This was likely because of the political storm the program received in Dallas where the program was implemented for one year until a new mayor and city council was elected with major support from alarm companies.

Steve Pendergrass, APD retired