Questions remain in Mass. officer shooting during alarm response

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Friday, September 1, 2006

SHREWSBURY, Mass.--An unnamed alarm company has been faulted for circumstances that led to the shooting of police officer during an alarm response.
On July 14, Shrewsbury police officer Stephen Rice, 25, was shot by homeowner Mark Ragsdale while responding to a security alarm at his residence. According to Shrewsbury police chief A. Wayne Sampson, Ragsdale inadvertently set off his own alarm upon returning prematurely from a vacation, then informed the alarm company it was a false alarm. However, Sampson said the alarm company did not relay that information.
Sampson will not release the name of the alarm company and will not release a copy of Ragsdale's alarm permit, required by a Shrewsbury ordinance. The police log for the incident does not identify the company, either.
Responding to the alarm, Rice and his partner arrived at Ragsdale's home and spoke with a neighbor who was on the alarm company's contact list. The neighbor reportedly told the officers that Ragsdale was on vacation and provided them with a key to the house. The officers entered the house, took "tactical positions" upon seeing a moving shadow on the second floor, and moved upstairs without identifying themselves.
They then encountered Ragsdale, who shot Rice in the abdomen, below his bulletproof vest.
Rice was taken to the hospital, Ragsdale invoked his right to remain silent, and police are now in the middle of an investigation into what happened, which Sampson said he could not put a time-table on. Rice has now been released from the hospital. Ragsdale, a well-known member of a family that owns area car dealerships who has appeared in television commercials, had his license to carry a concealed weapon suspended following the incident.
The story of Rice's shooting made many regional news outlets, including the Shrewsbury Chronicle, which carried a news story that paraphrased one neighborhood resident as saying: "The problem seems to stem from a lack of communication from the alarm company."
This concerns Marcus Muirhead, executive director of the Massachusetts Systems Contractors Association, who as of yesterday had been unable to contact Sampson to discuss the matter and who also did not know which alarm company was involved. "I've been asking all over the place," he said. "If I were in their shoes, with nothing to hide, I would go public so as not to have my situation sullied by hiding behind a veil of secrecy."
MSCA president Artie Eaton, president and chief executive officer of Home Electronic Life Protection, puts the onus on the police: "My take on it? Alarm companies do what they're supposed to do ... They won't name the alarm company, because they're not going to blame themselves. If the alarm company were at fault they would have named it."
George Fotiades, an active member of the MSCA and owner of Aegis Security Systems, based in Shrewsbury, confirmed that his company wasn't involved and said police should release the name of the company. "I don't think there should be any secrets," he said. "It should be public information."
However, he isn't worried about the public getting the wrong idea about all alarm companies. "I don't think that people even think about that," he said. "I think the only people who are really interested and concerned are those who are within the industry."
Industry members will not have to be concerned, however, about how the incident will color Chief Sampson's views on the alarm industry. He characterized his relationship with local alarm companies as good, and said he's been working with alarm companies for more than 10 years on solving the false alarm problem, though he's been "no more successful than any other community that has had to deal with the same problem," despite a policy of permitting alarms and a fee schedule for false alarms, passed in the late 1990s.
Though an apparent alarm has led to the first police shooting in Shrewsbury in 31 years, he still wouldn't consider going to a verified alarm policy, he said.
"We feel an obligation to our community to respond to all alarms," Sampson said. "The community safety comes first."
Of the town's 33,000 people, Sampson said roughly "a couple thousand" households had security alarms.