A black cloud in Shrewsbury

Friday, September 1, 2006

The small town of Shrewsbury, Mass., was understandably shaken by the July shooting of officer Stephen Rice, a one-year veteran of the local force and a lifetime Shrewsbury resident (see "Questions remain," page 1). It was the first time in 31 years an officer in their town had been shot, and his relatively quick recovery doesn't make the violence any less jarring for this town of 30,000 just east of Worcester. As you might expect, people are looking for someone to blame.
As we went to press, fingers continued to point at an unnamed alarm company, blamed for not notifying the police of the residential alarm's false nature and thereby allowing officers to continue to treat the situation as a potential burglary. Had Rice and his partner known that Mark Ragsdale, the homeowner, was in the house, they would not have crept up the stairs under the cover of darkness and Ragsdale likely would not have shot at them as intruders. Or so the theory offered up by the police department goes.
Obviously, industry members have any number of questions about what really happened that night. Why didn't the officers announce themselves? Where are the tapes of the call to the home? What did Ragsdale say to the alarm company? Why wasn't Ragsdale expecting a possible visit from police, considering reports that say his alarm was ringing loudly in the neighborhood for some time?
Unfortunately, citing an ongoing investigation, police are mum and are refusing to release the name of the alarm company. Further, the alarm company hasn't come forward to clear its name. This is disturbing.
By association, all Massachusetts alarm companies and all regional and national alarm companies are implicated in this event. More than three weeks after the incident, why hasn't anyone stepped forward to clear the air, whether to take responsibility or defend company actions? Members of the Massachusetts alarm community are as perplexed as I am.
However, as the industry persists in education initiatives, attempting to make citizens and police departments alike understand how alarms can best be utilized in their communities, incidents like this offer an opportunity. Already, articles in local papers have been written describing the alarm monitoring process, and industry members like Marcus Muirhead, executive director of the Massachusetts Systems Contractors Association, have been quoted defending the industry's track record and policies. This is good, but more can be done.
If the Shrewsbury Police Department is unwilling to conduct its investigation in the public eye, pressure must be applied by the industry to get the alarm company in question to reveal itself and begin the process of uncovering the truth of what happened the night of July 14.