The Problem of False Burglar Alarms
In the United States in 1998, police responded to approximately 38 million alarm activations, at an estimated annual cost of $1.5 billion.1 Most of the activations were burglar alarms.† This guide examines current police responses and presents alternative strategies to address the false alarm dilemma. Purchasers of an alarm system expect a police response if the alarm is activated, even though they bought the system from a private alarm company with no link to a police department. The vast majority of alarm calls–between 94 and 98 percent–are false (higher in some jurisdictions).†† In other words, reliability of alarms, which can be measured using these false rates, is generally between 2 and 6 percent. Nationwide, false alarms account for 10 to 25 percent of all calls to police.2 In the United States alone, «solving the problem of false alarms would by itself relieve 35,000 officers from providing an essentially private service.»3
† Based on a review of police data from several cities, burglar alarms may account for as much as 90 percent of the alarm workload.
†† False alarms may also generate calls for service from neighbors concerning noise.
The guide begins by reviewing factors that increase the risks of false burglar alarms. It then identifies a series of questions that might assist you in analyzing your local problem of false burglar alarms. Finally, it reviews responses to the problem and what is known about these from evaluative research and police practice.
During the 1990s, consolidation within the alarm industry began changing the way companies delivered services. Larger companies purchased smaller ones, and a number of alarm monitoring companies moved, sometimes out of state, to achieve economies of scale. For example, a company in Texas might monitor the alarms of tens of thousands of customers in Utah or other distant states.† If an alarm goes off, the monitoring company calls the owner. If no one responds or the person who answers gives the wrong prearranged code, the monitoring company calls the police, expecting them to respond.††
† The mergers also mean that alarm systems originally installed and serviced by one company may now be serviced by another. Many politicians fearful of alienating their local security industry often initially support police response to all alarms. However, the monitoring companies they are supporting may not be local at all.
†† A few companies still respond as part of their contract with customers, but this is rare.
Estimates show between 18 and 21 million security alarm systems in the United States, and 15 million of these are monitored. The industry adds roughly 1.5 million new systems each year.† Sixty percent of those are in residences,
the rest on commercial and institutional premises.4 Alarm industry statistics indicate that the average security system costs more than $1,600, with a $24 monthly monitoring fee. One out of every seven U.S. businesses and one out of every nine U.S. residences have alarms.5 The recent trend of wiring new residential construction with alarm capacity has the potential for significantly increasing the number of alarm calls in the coming decade. Consequently, even those police agencies with recently enacted false alarm policies and ordinances should revisit their approach; otherwise, they might find their workload further consumed with false alarm calls.
† Estimates of the number of new alarms installed differ (see Blackstone, Hakim and Spiegel 2000a; Hakim and Blackstone 1997; Spivey and Cobb 1997).
The false burglar alarm problem exhibits some similarities to the related problems listed below. This guide does not specifically address the following problems because each requires its own analysis and response:
false 911 calls,
false fire alarms,
false vehicle alarms,
false robbery alarms, and
noise complaints about audible alarms.
The Causes of False Burglar Alarms
Research suggests that false burglar alarms result from three main causes:
faulty or inappropriately selected equipment,
poor installation, and
user error (forgetful or unknowledgeable homeowners or roaming pets).†
Research tells us that false burglar alarms are not evenly distributed. Some alarm systems experience no false alarms, and others, many. One study suggests that 20 percent of alarm systems trigger 80 percent of false alarms.6 As a result, officers responding to false alarms are often spending time away from locations where crime and disorder are occurring.
† The alarm industry suggests user error accounts for the largest portion of false calls, poor installation is on the decline, and faulty equipment is less of a problem given recent technological advances.
Every year, Chicago police respond to more than 300,000 burglar alarms, 98 percent of them false, which translates to the equivalent of 195 full-time police officers.7
For the purposes of this guide, it is assumed that the alarm industry has the responsibility to improve the quality of its equipment, more accurately install devices and increase user knowledge of its product, all of which reduce false calls. This guide focuses on police policy remedies to devise a more appropriate response and stimulate the alarm industry to further improve the overall reliability of its products.
The Effectiveness of Burglar Alarms
Urban areas have higher residential burglary rates than suburban and rural areas. In 1999, the burglary rate for urban areas was 46.2 per 1,000 households, compared with 27.1 for suburban and 32.6 for rural households. Residential burglaries tend to concentrate in and around low-income areas, victimizing low-income households.† In 1999, households with annual incomes of $14,999 or less had two to three times the rate of burglary as those with incomes above $50,000, and burglary victimization rates were highest for households with incomes of less than $7,500.8
† The Bureau of Justice Assistance annual crime-victim survey does not include commercial burglary.
The U.S. burglary rate declined substantially from 1982 through the late 1990s. During the same time, the number of premises with alarms rose, but there is no evidence that there is a tie between the two. During the 1990s, when alarm ownership experienced a steep rise, other types of crime declined just as sharply as burglary. This suggests that reasons other than an increase in alarms fueled the burglary decline.
Burglary remains one of the most frequent crimes, with a national clearance rate averaging below 15 percent.9 Clearly, a central issue regarding police response to alarms is whether alarms help police catch burglars or prevent burglary. If alarms are highly reliable, the public benefits from police catching burglars, taking them out of circulation and reducing the risk of burglary for everyone in the community. However, if alarms are unreliable, then automatic police response becomes a personal service to the alarm owner, providing no benefits to the public at large. Under these circumstances, privatizing response or requiring a fee for service may be more appropriate.
The available research does not provide overwhelming support for alarms’ value in catching burglars. In a Charlotte, N.C., study, researchers found that police were slightly more likely to catch burglars in the act on premises without alarms than on those with alarms.10 As for the benefit to alarm owners, the few studies available are not definitive. They cover only a few suburban jurisdictions (Hakim and Buck 1991; Hakim 1995) or involve interviews with only small samples of burglars (Wright and Decker 1994; Cromwell, Olson and Avary 1991).†
† In interviews with small samples of active residential burglars in different jurisdictions, Cromwell, Olson and Avary, and then Wright and Decker, found that occupancy and surveillability (whether the burglars could be seen) were two of the most important deterrents. While most of the burglars said they would avoid residences with alarms, they also said they would avoid homes with dogs and those with yard signs indicating alarms.
In Salt Lake City, of the thousands of alarm calls responded to during 1999, only 23–or three-tenths of 1 percent–turned out to result from crimes.11
Hakim and Buck (1991) conducted studies in three suburban Pennsylvania areas and found that residences with alarms had a 1.4 percent chance of burglary, while those without had a 2.3 percent chance.†† However, it is important to note that suburban alarm effectiveness may vary from urban or rural alarm effectiveness.††† As for businesses, in the same three areas, Hakim and Buck found that those with alarms had a 4.2 percent chance of burglary, while those without had an 18.2 percent chance. Businesses in those areas appear to benefit most from alarms, although the overall risk of burglary to businesses, even those with an alarm, is higher than the risk to residences without an alarm, suggesting that businesses in those areas may need more than alarms to reduce their risk of burglary.
†† They conducted an additional study in Greenwich, Conn., one of the wealthiest U.S. cities, and found that «an alarm appears to be most effective when household income is above $150,000 and home value is above $601,000» (Hakim 1995; Hakim and Blackstone 1997).
††† Further, suburban Pennsylvania and Connecticut alarm effectiveness may not be the same as suburban Florida, Ohio or California alarm effectiveness.
As for security devices, only one study has been conducted to determine which is most effective at deterring burglary, and that study was of suburban areas. In reviewing data from Hakim and Buck’s study, Hakim and Blackstone found that alarms are more effective than other security devices. For residences, they found that additional security precautions such as dead bolts, exterior lights, a dog, and a car in the driveway further decrease burglary risk. There is no comparable research for urban or rural areas, so it is unclear which specific security precautions–window bars, strong locks, sturdy doors, alarms, alarm signs in the yard, security lights, or dogs–most deter burglars in those areas. It may be that security measures that are less expensive than alarms are as effective in deterring burglars in those areas.†
† Britain’s Home Office researched residential burglary vulnerability from its 1997 national victimization data. A review of security devices, including dead bolts, burglar alarms, security lights, window locks, and window bars or grilles, suggests they reduce the risk of burglary, although they do not completely prevent victimization. Analysis of the value of one type of security measure vs. another was not done. An earlier Home Office study of a public housing area experiencing numerous repeat burglaries showed significant reductions in burglaries through use of a series of prevention measures that did not include alarms (Forrester, Chatterton and Pease 1988).
The Costs of False Burglar Alarms
Each false alarm requires approximately 20 minutes of police time, usually for two officers. This costs the public as much as $1.5 billion per year in police time.
In 1997, Fort Worth, Texas, police spent $1.5 million responding to false burglar alarms.12
In the vast majority of jurisdictions, the cost of responding to false alarms is not recouped through fines. Jurisdictions that try to recoup costs generally omit the lost-opportunity costs, potentially a significant part of the equation.†† Typical costs include:
†† Lost-opportunity costs might include time that police could have spent conducting problem-solving of documented crime and disorder, reducing repeat calls at crime hot spots, and engaging the community in public safety concerns. These all compete with time spent on chronic false alarm response.
personnel costs of police call-takers and dispatchers;
personnel, equipment and training costs of responding officers, along with those of any backup personnel;
personnel costs associated with analyzing false alarms;
software, hardware, office space, and equipment costs for false alarm management;
administrative and staff costs of notifications, permitting, billing, and education programs;
costs of developing, printing and distributing publications to educate the public and alarm companies about false alarms;
lost-opportunity costs, since police are unavailable to work on actual crime problems; and
costs associated with call displacement, because other 911 calls take longer to respond to.†
† It should be noted that it is unclear how many non-alarm calls to police are actually false.
As an inducement to buy an alarm, a number of companies offer «free monitoring services» for the first few months. Many insurance companies offer discounts–as much as 20 percent off property insurance–to commercial owners of monitored alarms, slightly less to residential owners.13 In addition, many police departments offer several «free» false alarms before imposing any fine, even though the cost to respond is significant right from the start. These practices (free monitoring services by alarm companies and discounts from insurers) call into question the appropriateness of the current trend in U.S. policing of offering 3 or 4 «free» false alarms within a calendar year because the result is an alarm owner has no incentive upfront to prevent false alarms.
Certain burglary prevention measures have costs only to the owner. Lights, locks, and bars installed by a property owner (if within fire code) are cost-free to the rest of the community. The individual purchaser bears these costs. On the other hand, alarm systems are not cost-free to the community especially if up to 98 percent of alarms are false but still require time and resources of a police response.
In Los Angeles in 1998, police received 3,000 alarm calls per week, with a yearly average false alarm rate of approximately 97 percent, representing the equivalent of 41 officers working 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.14
So, while alarm systems may have some benefit for alarm owners as part of an overall security package, the question remains whether non-alarm owners in the community should shoulder a share of the cost.
In addition, another cost of burglar alarms is the noise endured by neighbors when audible alarms sound, which then fuels noise complaint calls to the police. Some callers seek to alert the police that a neighboring alarm has rung. Others merely desire that the police stop the noise. In many jurisdictions, legislators have passed time restrictions for audible alarms, limiting them to 15 or 20 minutes and prohibiting extra sounding cycles.†
† In New South Wales, Australia, the Environmental Protection Authority prohibits the sale of building-intruder alarms produced after September 1997 that sound for more than five minutes or that can automatically reset and sound again, since police and insurance groups have reported that most burglaries are over within five minutes. See their Draft Noise Guide for Local Government.
Understanding Your Local Problem
Asking the Right Questions
The information provided above is only a generalized description of false alarms. The first step to address your community’s false alarm problem requires an analysis. You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your community’s problem. Careful analysis will help you design a more effective response strategy. This analysis should, at a minimum, answer the following questions:
What percentage of your department’s call-for-service workload involves responding to alarms?
What percentage of the department’s alarm calls are false?
What percentage of the department’s alarm calls are burglar alarms, and what percentage of those are false?
What percentage of the department’s noise calls relate to alarms,† and what is the call-taking cost for these?
† Do not include vehicle alarms, as they are a different alarm problem requiring separate analysis.
What is the department’s true cost of responding to alarms (see «The Costs of False Alarms» above)?
How many residential and commercial alarm systems are there in your jurisdiction, and what is the anticipated rate of growth for alarm installation?
At what rate do police catch burglars at alarm calls in your jurisdiction?
What are the false alarm rates for businesses, residences and governmental, public or semipublic premises (such as schools, city labs, museums, city storage yards, etc.) for your jurisdiction?††
†† For example, 87 percent of Seattle’s alarm activations are for the following: commercial, 44 percent; residential, 38 percent; banks, 2 percent; vehicle alarms, 2 percent; schools, 0.54 percent; Varda police temporary alarms, 0.33 percent; and mobile personal alarms, 0.02 percent.
Are there any identifiable patterns for commercial alarm calls, such as at opening and closing times or during the holidays? (This indicates that alarm companies must educate specific groups of alarm owners.)
Are there any identifiable patterns for residential alarm calls, such as percent of alarm calls that are cancelled by the owner (or alarm company) within 15 minutes of the initial activation? This would indicate alarm company responsibility for educating owners about proper alarm operation.
Do some alarm companies have higher false alarm rates than others?
What does a review of websites for alarm companies in your area suggest about the accuracy of their claims when trying to gain new customers?
What does a review of alarm company policies and contracts suggest about alarm companies’ obligations to owners of alarms?
Has your department identified jurisdictions that have successfully reduced their total number of false alarms, not just their rates (see «Responses to the Problem of False Burglar Alarms» below, for examples)?
Has the department interviewed alarm company personnel to determine their perspectives on the false alarm problem and their openness to new solutions?
Has the department interviewed groups of property owners (with and without alarms) to determine their perspectives on the false alarm problem and their openness to new solutions?
Has the department met with police union or police association leaders to determine their perspectives on the false alarm problem, and their openness to new solutions?
Measuring Your Effectiveness
Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your efforts have succeeded, and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results.
You should take measures of the false alarm problem before implementing responses, to determine how serious the problem is, and after implementing them, to determine whether they have been effective. For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see the companion guide to this series, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers. The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to false alarms:
number of alarm calls;
percentage of the police department’s call load devoted to false alarms;
percentage of uncommitted time for officers to engage in problem-solving concerning actual crime and disorder problems;
personnel hours devoted to handling false alarm calls;
costs of handling false alarm calls;
false alarm rates for various types of premises–commercial, residential, governmental (such as schools, city labs, museums, city storage yards, etc.);
temporal patterns of false alarm calls, such as at opening and closing times or during the holiday seasons;
false alarm rates of alarm companies; and
the rate at which police catch burglars at alarm calls. If false calls are minimized, burglar apprehension rates should rise.
Responses to the Problem of False Burglar Alarms
Your analysis of your local problem should give you a better understanding of the factors contributing to it. Once you have analyzed your local problem and established a baseline for measuring effectiveness, you should consider possible responses to address the problem.
The following response strategies provide a foundation of ideas for addressing your particular problem. These strategies are drawn from a variety of research studies and police reports. Several of these strategies may apply to your community’s problem. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem. Do not limit yourself to considering what police can do: give careful consideration to who else in your community shares responsibility for the problem and can help police better respond to it.
Requiring alarm companies to visually verify alarm legitimacy before calling the police. Under this approach, alarm companies must visually verify the legitimacy of alarms (except holdup, duress and panic alarms) at the scene or by camera before calling the police. This approach, often referred to as «verified response» or «limited response,» can significantly reduce false alarm calls, allowing police to focus on true break-ins, actual attempts and holdup, duress and panic alarms. Under this approach, only holdup, duress and panic alarms require permits, whereas burglar alarms do not, reducing the administrative costs associated with a police staffed false alarm program. The Salt Lake City Council adopted a limited-response ordinance in 2000,† and the Las Vegas Metro Police Department adopted this approach in 1992, changing departmental policy to require alarm company visual verification before dispatch. Dispatches on burglary alarms dropped from over 100,000 per year (before 1992) to less than 10,000 a year (in 2000), a 90 percent reduction, despite population growth from 678,190 in 1991 to over 1 million in 2000. In addition, Las Vegas burglary rates declined by 8 percent for the three years following the change in policy.15 In Salt Lake City, after enactment of the ordinance, the first few months showed an 88 percent reduction in the number of alarm calls. [Click here to see the Goldstein Award Submission describing in more detail what Salt Lake City did.] Alarm companies charge an extra $5 per month for response to alarms. Several other cities have adopted verified response, as well. It requires an investment in educating political leaders, the public and interested parties (alarm companies, police unions, the media) about the costs and benefits of a modified response;†† it also requires alarm companies’ availability for initial response to alarms.
† The ordinance is available here.
†† The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), with funding from the National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association and the Central Station Alarm Association, studied the problem of false alarms and, in 1999, recommended an approach combining a number of strategies for reducing them: enforced ordinances, permitting, escalating fines, alarm company dispatch cancellations, notification of alarm companies regarding customer-abusers, suspension of response after a certain number of false alarms, telephone (or other electronic) verification by alarm companies, notification to alarm owners every time their alarm activates, and alarm-user classes (Alarm Industry Research & Educational Foundation 1999, Model States Report.) A study the three groups conducted showed decreases in false alarms when this combined strategy was used. Reductions ranged from 17 to 62 percent and required considerable cooperation from alarm companies. The difference between this approach and the one listed in the «Best Practices» section is that the latter requires alarm company visual verification, eliminating police response to almost all false alarms.
The U.K. Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has adopted a national policy that incorporates a version of verified response. Alarms installed after October 2001 will require technology that confirm the need for police response. For those systems already in place, two false alarms in a rolling 12-month period prompt a lower-priority police response, and after five false alarms, the police no longer respond until upgraded confirmation technology is installed and the problem is solved. [Full Text ]
Charging a fee for service for all false holdup, duress and panic alarms. A fee for service is charged for that portion of the alarm call load for which a «verified response» is impractical. Under this approach, there is no cost-shifting to police for false holdup, duress or panic alarms, so the approach discourages false calls. Salt Lake City has adopted a similar fining approach. However, it is recommended that each department conduct a separate analysis of holdup, duress and panic alarms.
Responding to holdup, duress and panic alarms only if they come from a stationary building. This approach is intended to stem the burgeoning use of mobile personal alarms and should be used in addition to the strategies discussed above.† New technology has prompted entrepreneurs to market mobile alarms: some handheld, some worn on clothing. If police response is promised as part of these advances, there is the potential for dramatically increased false alarms. To reduce this potential, police agencies can adopt policies providing for police response only when an alarm originates from a building. Salt Lake City’s ordinance includes a section to address this,†† but again, a separate analysis of this problem is recommended.†††
† Those panic devices police provide to victims of ongoing crimes, such as domestic violence and stalking, may be exempted.
†† The IACP noted in their report, «Response to Mobile Security Alarm Devices»: «[M]obile security devices (MSDs) are rapidly being adopted by manufacturers of high-end automobiles. It is only a matter of time before the feature is offered broadly through all levels of new car sales. The U.S. Postal Service is contemplating the installation of such mobile distress alarms in 85,000 of its vehicles.»
††† Also, an Internet search by the author revealed other examples of mobile security companies that offer police response as part of their product lines. In January 2001, there were 42 Internet stories on the «Techno-Bra.» Sensors in the bra send out a panic alarm to police via global positioning satellite technology when there is a sudden change in pulse rate. The «Techno-Bra» is expected in stores in the coming year and will cost under $70. The U.K. ACPO adopted, as part of its national policy, the requirement that portable personal alarms contain technology to pinpoint the exact location of the person attacked [Full Text ] .
Responses With Limited Effectiveness
Establishing a fee for service for all false alarm calls. A fee for service would cover all costs associated with responding to false alarms. These include lost-opportunity costs for officers responding to false alarms rather than proactively working on reducing crime and disorder problems.† A fee for service differs from a fine in that it is not punitive; it is meant only to recover costs. It is unclear whether a fee for service reduces false alarms, though it does reimburse the city for providing a police response to a call that is almost always false. Any policy would need to incorporate follow-up action against nonpayers.
† Calculating lost-opportunity costs might be less difficult for departments engaged in problem-oriented policing. Line officers in these departments proactively address specific crime and disorder problems, such as open-garage burglaries in a four-block area or repeat burglary victimization in one neighborhood. It is the proactive time spent on specific crime and disorder problems that is lost (or lessened) when false alarm calls go unchecked.
Establishing an ordinance with escalating fines for false alarms. Many police agencies rely on a local alarm ordinance to guide policy and establish false alarm fines. Some ordinances provide for fixed fines, others include escalating fines against repeat abusers, and a few apply a costrecovery system. Typically, fines are allocated to the general fund and not to the police budget. Invariably, alarm owners are not fined until they have several false alarms (usually three or four). A fine system often includes a requirement for an alarm permit. Alarm permits help police departments to track and fine alarm abusers and to notify the most chronic abusers of no further police response. This approach has had some impact in reducing false alarms, but it is administratively costly and requires the dispatch of officers (except in the most chronic cases). Some residents resent police fines for services, as they mistakenly believe their taxes cover them. As a result, some jurisdictions have found it difficult to collect fines; collection rates can be as low as 60 percent without significant follow-up.
Accepting dispatch cancellations. Some police agencies will cancel a dispatch if an alarm company calls to cancel. The alarm company cancellation is usually based on telephone, not visual, verification. This approach can decrease the number of calls officers must respond to, but does nothing to decrease the number of incoming calls to dispatchers. In fact, it increases them because cancellation calls must be fielded and dispatched.
Alerting alarm companies about false alarm abusers. Some police agencies contact alarm companies with the names of customers who are false alarm abusers. This practice can reduce false alarms if alarm companies work with alarm owners to remedy the abuse. This approach depends on the alarm company’s willingness to follow up with its customers, and its capacity to bring abusers into line. It works best if both the alarm companies and the abusers are charged for costs. Alerting alarm companies requires police administrative staffing and police response to all alarm calls, and it may necessitate additional police resources as the number of alarm systems in buildings and elsewhere rises.
Publishing alarm companies’ false alarm rates on websites or elsewhere. Police can calculate and publish the false alarm rates of individual alarm companies to help potential buyers make informed decisions. This could prompt companies with higher false alarm rates to improve their practices.
Holding false alarm classes. Some police agencies hold false alarm classes for abusers, usually with some success. This approach requires police administrative staffing. However, representatives from alarm companies, the group most knowledgeable about reducing false alarm calls, often do not attend.
Lowering the call priority of alarms. Avoiding the political issues involved in disagreeing with the alarm industry or in battling with city or county legislators, some police agencies have simply lowered the call priority for alarms (other than holdup, duress and panic alarms). This does not reduce the number of false alarms, but it does reduce the number of alarm calls competing for high-priority dispatch.
Response Not Recommended
Responding «priority one» to alarm calls. A number of police agencies still respond to alarm calls with their highest priority, often referred to as «priority one.» The research does not support this level of response due to the high rate of false alarms. In addition, this approach does nothing to address the underlying causes of false alarms.
The table below summarizes the responses to false burglar alarms, the mechanism by which they are intended to work, the conditions under which they ought to work best, and some factors you should consider before implementing a particular response. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem.
# Response How It Works Works Best If… Considerations
1 Requiring alarm companies to visually verify alarm legitimacy before calling the police ordinances The alarm company responds to the scene of an alarm and calls the police only if a crime or attempted crime has occurred. If the alarm company is in visual contact with the alarm site, such as through CCTV, and can verify a crime or an attempt, police will respond …holdup, panic and duress alarms are exempted; alarm companies are prohibited from routinely including duress alarms in most alarm systems; and combined with responses 2 and 3 Requires educating the public, police union and media to enable police leaders to establish departmental policy, or to encourage local (and sometimes state) legislators to enact
2 Charging a fee for service for all false holdup, duress and panic alarms Used in combination with response 1, keeps these types of alarm calls from becoming unmanageable …the alarm industry is prohibited from classifying ordinary burglar alarms as «duress» alarms; and combined with responses 1 and 3 Requires permits for holdup, duress and panic alarms, as well as false alarm reduction management to monitor trends in such calls
3 Responding to holdup, duress and panic alarms only if they come from a stationary building For an example, see the Salt Lake City ordinance. Exception may be made for panic alarms police give to high-risk domestic violence and stalking victims …publicized so that mobile-alarm manufacturers know the police will not respond
Requires outreach to mobile-alarm manufacturers
Responses With Limited Effectiveness
# Response How It Works Works Best If… Considerations
4 Establishing a fee for service for all false alarm calls The city calculates the true cost of false alarm response, including the lost- opportunity costs for police …the political climate is more supportive of fees for service than «verified response» Involves billing and follow-up with customers who fail to pay; may involve taking legal action against nonpayers
5 Establishing an ordinance with escalating fines for false alarms Requires permits for alarm owners and escalating fines for false alarms …the community has an extremely low number of false alarms, and officers have sufficient free time so that responding to false alarm calls does not impede their ability to work on actual crime problems Is often only a stopgap measure–police agencies should expect the number of alarm calls to rise in the coming decade; involves billing and follow up with customers who fail to pay; may involve taking legal action against non-payees
6 Accepting dispatch cancellations The alarm company verifies (usually by telephone) that the alarm was false, and then calls the police, who cancel their response …established by ordinance, and alarm companies follow through Increases the number of incoming calls dispatchers must handle
7 Alerting alarm companies about false alarm abusers Police sort records of false alarm abusers by company, and notify the companies …accompanied by sanctions for noncompliance; alarm companies, along with individual alarm owners, are charged for costs Requires police staff time to sort records, and alarm company cooperation in dealing with alarm owners
8 Publishing alarm companies’ false- alarm rates on websites or elsewhere Police post alarm companies’ false alarm rates on department websites or elsewhere …police alert alarm companies that they are going to do so, and give them time to reduce their false alarm rates before publication Requires accurate and regular updating, perhaps quarterly. In the United Kingdom, an inspectorate monitors companies’ false alarm rates. For those companies unwilling to reduce high rates, the police do not respond to alarms without evidence of a crime in progress16
9 Holding false- alarm classes Police hold classes for alarm abusers and offer a free alarm call to those who attend …police have the time and resources to do so Police who lead the classes must develop expertise in typical alarm systems and their false-trigger patterns. The Phoenix Police Department co teaches such classes with members of the alarm industry
10 Lowering the call priority of alarms Police code alarm calls as «low priority» for dispatch purposes …police have sufficient resources to respond to alarm calls, and local legislators are unwilling to address the problem in any other way Does not address the underlying causes of false alarms. The U.K. Association of Chief Police Officers suggests a delayed, lower priority response following two false alarm calls in a rolling 12-month period
Responses With Limited Effectiveness
# Response How It Works Works Best If… Considerations
11 Responding «priority one» to alarm calls Police treat alarm calls as actual emergencies, despite extensive research findings to the contrary …the community has few crime problems, and police have sufficient resources to do so Assumes police desire full responsibility for false alarms or the community and legislature are unwilling to accept extensive research concerning the frequency of false alarms
The Problem of False Burglar Alarms