To serve, protect and reduce false alarms

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

The goal of law enforcement is to serve and protect, enhancing public safety through a partnership with the community. One proven partnership is the use and effective management of alarm systems that protect homes, businesses and citizens. Maximizing this benefit requires the active participation and cooperation of law enforcement, citizens and the alarm industry.

The relationship between law enforcement and the alarm industry is a great example of a public-private partnership that brings measurable benefit to the community. In the past, performance has been judged by the percentage of calls for service generated from an alarm system that does not merit police response. The percentage, in relation to total calls for service, continues to be high and constantly above the 90 percent level.

For example, if a city has 1,000 calls for service that requires police response in the first month, with 20 of those calls being legitimate, the false alarm percentage is 98 percent. In the second month, if the calls for service are reduced to 800, with 20 legitimate calls, the false alarm percentage is only reduced to 97.5 percent. Even if in the third month, the alarm companies are able to reduce calls for service down to 667 calls - a 33 percent reduction over the first month - with 20 legitimate calls, it would still be at a 97 percent false alarm rate!

The example illustrates why we should be looking at actual calls for service, not the percentage of alarm calls that are false. The false alarm percentage is not relevant or an effective measurement to guide public safety policy - the right measurement is the reduction of calls for service to alarmed properties. Armed with the right information, we can analyze the information, identify trends and create an effective action plan. With this process, we will be able to track the results of the program with a metric that is more meaningful and useful for us to measure our successes and failures.

Most cities are facing increasing demand for services, combined with a reduction of revenue. Citizens need to keep a vigilant eye on cities that look to alarm owners as a source of new, unencumbered revenue. Properly managed alarm systems save police resources and provide a cost savings to the city. In Los Angeles, more than 80 percent of the alarmed properties, most of which have a higher risk of being targeted for a burglary, had no calls for service to the police department in 2002. We also know that there is no measurable increase of patrol resources required in responding to alarm calls by law enforcement. Salt Lake City, which reduced response to alarms by 90 percent reports only “opportunity savings.” The Los Angeles Police Department reported that if they eliminated all or most of the alarm response, there would be no impact on their deployment of patrol resources and no impact on responding to other calls for service.

If we focus only on the percentage of alarm calls that are false, then the only solution would be to eliminate response to alarms. When Salt Lake City reduced the number of alarm calls by 90 percent, their percentage of false alarms remained at 90 percent. Reducing or eliminating alarm response has shown a significant increase in burglaries and, consequently, the overall crime rate. In Los Angeles, the Burglar Alarm Task Force noted cities that had reduced alarm response have burglary and crime rates doubling, and in some cases tripling.

The alarm industry is a responsive and responsible partner for public safety, and our joint efforts with the IACP and NSA have produced the Model Ordinance, a program for ongoing alarm management, recently introducing equipment standards and the enhanced call verification protocol. As a result of these efforts, calls for service are being reduced while maintaining the crime deterrent effect of the technology and services the alarm industry provides.

Law enforcement agencies and the alarm industry work effectively together throughout the United States with the shared mission of public safety - deterring and preventing crime. We must be wary of any effort that disregards this proven partnership and puts the community at risk.

George DeMarco is president of Greater Alarm, a security company in California. DeMarco can be contacted via email at