L.A. alarm policy arrives with New Year

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Sunday, February 1, 2004

LOS ANGELES - When the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, it not only signaled the beginning of 2004, but it also ushered in the Los Angeles Police Department’s new policy for responding to burglar alarms.

The new policy, while not an actual verified response policy, does include a verified response element that kicks in after two false alarms. Now, if a home or business has experienced two false alarms within a year, police will not respond to an alarm unless it has been verified.

This compromise plan was adopted as a less strict alternative to the original plan proposed by Police Chief William Bratton about a year ago. Under that plan, police would not have responded to any alarm without verification by a surveillance camera or witness on the scene.

According to one alarm company executive, the new policy may not make much of a difference in the city.

“We’ve been living in de facto nonresponse for some time now,” said Bruce Boyer, president of Lone Star Security in Los Angeles.

Along with the new alarm response policy, a new set of fines is also scheduled to take effect, although not immediately. Homeowners and businesses that have city-issued permits for their alarm systems will pay $95 for the first false alarm, and $50 for each successive false alarm. Those without permits will face steeper fines of $190 for the first and $100 more for each additional false alarm. Permits will cost $31 annually.

According to the LAPD, 43 percent of false alarms in 2002 came from homes or businesses that had experienced three or more alarms in a year. The mayor’s office estimates that the new policy will reduce false alarms by as much as 55 percent.

Opponents of the ordinance have claimed that the LAPD’s response rate for burglar alarms has been sorely lacking in recent years, a fact that Chief Bratton all but confirmed last summer when he made it clear his officers would treat burglar alarm response as a low priority.

To test response times, last May, Boyer conducted an audit of the LAPD’s response to his company’s requests for dispatch. For his audit, Boyer tracked every dispatch from everywhere in the city for a two-week period. He then called the LAPD to confirm when officers arrived at the scene. Boyer said he found that police had no record of responding to at least 23 percent of the alarm calls that Lone Star called in.

When police did respond, Boyer said, the statistics were even more staggering.

“Eight to nine percent of the calls were responded to in under 30 minutes, and we showed that response times of over three hours were 10 percent,” he said. “If you’re not getting there in 30 minutes, you’re a joke.”

At press time, Boyer, who has had run-ins with city leaders in Los Angeles, was awaiting sentencing for violating the city’s sign ordinance (SSN, December 2003). Boyer said he would likely appeal the conviction depending on the sentence he received.