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LJWorld.com weblogs Police Scanner action in Lawrence Kansas

Police Scanner Action- False Burglary Alarms

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While listening to my scanner and hearing the "goings-ons" in Lawrence, Kansas, I have noticed a pesky little problem; false burglary alarms. Some days, it seems like there are at least 30 calls, all of which are false. I don't have the actual numbers from the Douglas County dispatch, I am just guessing. It is enough calls to be noticed and has made me wonder- what is the deal?

A little research has made me aware this is a major problem across the country. False alarms account for 10-25% of all police calls- and some statictics say only 1-3% of these alarms show any evidence of criminal activity. This is a HUGE waste of resources! In 1998 it was estimated that, in Chicago alone, the cost of responding to these alarms was equal to the cost of 198 full-time officers that year, For such a high-crime area, this is simply unacceptable.

Different cities have tried different approaches- some offer a certain amout of "free" call responses a year. Some cities require a certification and registration of your alarm system- to make sure you are using it responsibly- and will not answer your alarm if you are not registered. Some cities fine you if there is more than 1-3 calls a year.

These alarm companies have different ways of operating- some will try to contact the responsible party first. All to often though, it is the police who respond, sometimes during extremely busy times, when there is a lot of real criminal activity. This is not only wasteful, but puts the public at risk due to understaffing. Often times two units respond to these calls.

I am unsure what the answer is, but I am really curious to see what others think. This is costing billions of dollars in wasted resources. We just can't afford this anymore

Comments

Chelsea Kapfer 3 years, 11 months ago

This is a serious problem. I spoke with a police officer last night about this. If City Hall is ready to trim some fat off the expenses of Fire, Police and EMS, find a way to cut down the false alarms. How much does it cost to send an officer, for 30-40 min on a false alarm call? I've tossed this question around to a number of people and came up with a guesstimate of about $200. We heard about 30 calls in one day on the police scanner, also you can see them listed at the Lawernce Police Scanner website. Something really needs to be done about this soon. I was told Olathe Police will start charging you about $150 after the 3rd or 4th time it happens.

kernal 3 years, 11 months ago

Chelsea, seems to me this is a question that should be put to the alarm system providers, but I seriously doubt any of them will respond to this since the problem probably lies with their equipment or the installation of it.

Chelsea Kapfer 3 years, 11 months ago

Yes. True. Loose doors and sensors that are in the wrong spot (like too close to a window) are trouble too.

Kash_Encarri 3 years, 11 months ago

I'd prefer my alarm company reporting a false alarm (and then even pay a fine, police call, whatever) to the response I received from my old alarm company. I didn't get the door between the house and garage closed completely one time when I left. The alarm company called my home phone number - even though it has my cell and my spouse's cell listed as contacts - and when they didn't get an answer they did absolutely nothing. I'm glad the neighbor called me, and sorry they had to put up with the audible alarm, to let me know that the thing was going off and that they had called the police. I felt like an @ss for causing the false call, but was totally po'ed at my (now former) security provider.

xr650rsource 3 years, 11 months ago

We posted this on FB today to try to get more input about this. We tracked almost 30 calls the other day of false burglary alarms. These calls are expensive. This should be looked at seriously.

xr650rsource 3 years, 11 months ago

How much does a false alarm cost? We have estimated this at around $150-$200. Any ideas out there?

xr650rsource 3 years, 11 months ago

I could see this in front of City Hall soon. With all these budget cuts, this is one item to look at first.

DillonBarnes 3 years, 11 months ago

As a pretty regular listener of the police scanner, I find the "about 30" or "seems like 30 calls" to be a pretty high estimate. Does it happen, sure, but not 30 times a day.

Where did you get your estimate of $150-200? You just threw it out there and I'm really curious where that came from.

Chelsea Kapfer 3 years, 11 months ago

There was a day, about 3 days ago, and we had a blogger on the scanner for about 15 hours strait. She said there were so many false alarms (burglary) she quit writing them up. I asked her how many, and she said maybe 30. Maybe it was an unusual day. But certainly there are 3-5-7 every day. We know this for a fact. $150-$200 came from a lot of different factors. Olathe fines $150 after 3-4 false alarms. They got that number from somewhere, and sounded like a good number to recover expenses, and stiff enough to get the building residents attention.. Any professional service provider gets $65-$125 for any type of call. Plumbers, electricians, roto-rooter...etc, make this amount a bare minimum. Now add a really expensive police car, computer and radio equipment, fuel and labor, and you might be around $150-$200 pretty quick. Now factor in a real emergency that the officer might have missed.....that in itself could be really costly, a lot more than $200.....

Chelsea Kapfer 3 years, 11 months ago

I think that some days, 30 is about accurate, for a 24 hour period. Especially if there are high winds causing door to rattle. I got this estimate from reading several articles and averaging low and high estimates. Seattle charges $95 dollars a call, for calls over 1 time in a 364 day period. Chicago has a similar system. When you think of the time spent for the dispatch to take the call, two officers to respond to the call, the equipment necessary to make all this happen- it seems like a pretty realistic estimate, I think. What do you think?

DillonBarnes 3 years, 11 months ago

I think it's very hard to quantify cost of these false calls. I don't think you can just add up cost of labor and traveling to the scene though. The officer/s would already be on his shift and that call is going to cost taxpayers the same amount regardless of the call. It's hard to say an officer will "miss" a call, it's just a matter of the time difference between when that officer would have arrived and when the other officer would arrive. An important difference, just hard to put a price tag on it.

However, it is a waste of resources, and maybe something does need to be done about it. I would like to see who the repeat offenders are, and how often this happens. I would imagine that those who have multiple false alarms would get annoyed enough at their system to do something anyway, I hope. There will inevitably be those who won't do something though, are there enough of these offenders to do something about it?

babs52 3 years, 11 months ago

As the manager at our office, I am contacted by the security company and asked to meet the officer when an alarm is activated. As the office is in a business park and no one around late at night, I would not feel comfortable investigating on my own.
You bring up some good points. I think it's reasonable to ask a business to pay after a certain number of reports.
You are correct - thunderstorms are a problem but interestingly, the alarm at our office went off last week when you reported a high number of calls. Wonder if there was really a problem with the security company's alarms?

Chelsea Kapfer 3 years, 11 months ago

I think the real problems are loose doors, windows, and motion detected through windows. I think any property with an alarm should have a yearly inspection for false alarm problems. I have personally fixed these problems for people before, repairing steel doors, and loose magnets. Let's say if you don't keep the "false alarm inspection" to date, and your alarm goes off, you get fined $150?

Dispersant 3 years, 11 months ago

Are these calls coming from only those with alarm systems? I would guess maybe half (or maybe even less) of these people calling in have alarm systems. It seems to me that it's a lot of older ladies hearing the wind blow a shutter closed and they freak out and call 911. (over and over)

You should be allowed more than one call a year, however. Maybe after the 2nd or 3rd time you can start charging fees....

Chelsea Kapfer 3 years, 11 months ago

I have just e-mailed a few people, and I will make some phone calls tomorrow, because I want actual statistics now...your questions are good and i want exact answers. I am curious about fire false alarms as well. Fire calls are, I imagine, way more expensive due to the increased number of personnel it takes to respond. Stay tuned, I will dig up some hard facts for your enquiring mind! ;)

Chelsea Kapfer 3 years, 11 months ago

These are some Stats for Seattle, can't find any for Douglas County, yet.

Households with security alarms: 17.5 percent

Businesses: 14.3 percent

Alarms police responded to last year: 29,612

Number proven to be false: 28,757

Officer time spent responding to alarms: 13,622 hours

Average per alarm: 26.7 minutes

Cost to department: $1,280,852

Recovered in false-alarm fines: $277,562*

Total 2000 deficit: $1,003,290

*Amount recovered by department.

Source: Seattle Police Department

xr650rsource 3 years, 11 months ago

Well, I heard 5 false alarms tonight in just a few hours. I think I can safely say that there are 10 per day.

Dispatch is who to ask about this. I have already talked to an officer tonight and he basically replied, "oh man, lots of false alarms. It's a problem. Business with garage doors is a popular one. Sensors get bumped a lot."

Popeye 3 years, 11 months ago

The Lawrence stats is a snapshot of the national problem/disgrace. Over 50,000 full time police first responders, and all support resources, are required to “subsidize” the private alarm industry…. 10-25% of all patrol response… and nearly all the calls are unnecessary/false. Most police departments solve the problem by lowering the priority of calls from monitoring firms to barking dog status, very slow non-emergency. Most alarm customers are unaware of the low/slow status. The alarm industry does not want to stop false alarms because lots of police response adds value to their private contracts. Cost recovery via fines & fees is never a good substitute. For every $1 of police cost recovery, the alarm industry earns about $100. It is really sad to hear of police lay-offs while still supporting private contracts.

Chelsea Kapfer 3 years, 11 months ago

It is really sad. I don't think people realize it. Aside from the money- how would you feel if you really needed police assistance, but they were busy at Taco Bell's 6th false alarm this year? I don't have a solution, but I wish I did.

xr650rsource 3 years, 11 months ago

It's a tough problem to deal with. I think about it a lot.

xr650rsource 3 years, 11 months ago

So Lawrence PD is paying, let's say, Protection 1?

Chelsea Kapfer 3 years, 11 months ago

I was thinking- what if the security companies had to hire their own security officers to verify a criminal act before calling the police?

kernal 3 years, 11 months ago

That won't work. Some of the larger apartment complexes in Lawrence hire private security firms to monitor their complexes overnight. Their response time to a call is forty-five minutes to an hour, if you call in the middle of the night. The security person's answer as to "why?" was that it takes forty-five minutes to get across town. Really, when the apartment complex is on Bob Billings Pkwy between Iowa and Kasold? I can drive from Wakarusa to the East Lawrence Business Park in twenty minutes during heavy traffic.

Chelsea Kapfer 3 years, 11 months ago

Between 2:30 a.m. and 4:30 a.m this morning there were 6 false alarms.

Scott Overfield 3 years, 11 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Chelsea Kapfer 3 years, 11 months ago

ouch, that was a really mean thing to say.

xr650rsource 3 years, 11 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

xr650rsource 3 years, 11 months ago

Oh, Jerry, Rick's older brother? OK. And where did I put that box of Bon-Bons.....? Meanwhile, back on Earth....... Wish I had the "life" to insult people on the LJW Blog.......

damnitimpissed 3 years, 11 months ago

I don't know who "Jerry Springfield" is, but I'm happy to share a city with someone whose hobby happens to actually benefit the community. And I respect a willingness to raise questions that improve accountability. And the best part - actual IDEAS for making things better! A-may-hay-zing, and practically unheard of around here... (Why, why troll nice people when there are so many easier, more deserving and more entertaining targets, ffs?)

Chelsea Kapfer 3 years, 11 months ago

ideas are welcome...thanks for responding!

damnitimpissed 3 years, 11 months ago

(i haven't done any research on this, but...) How about an independent group that figures the ratio of false alarms to real ones for each security company? Consumers and law enforcement could then avoid the companies with the worst ratio. The way it is now, it seems companies have little incentive to innovate any solution other than prompting the highest number of alarms possible, real or not.

Sorry if this is a stupid question, but why does law enforcement have to have a private contract with these companies?

kernal 3 years, 11 months ago

LPD has a "private contract" with local security companies? Who's going to pay the independent group to do the research? Not the City. Law enforcement can't ignore burgler and fire alarms when they go off as their job is to serve and protect.

Solution is for security customers to make sure the building is secured before turning on the alarm system and the security company making sure its systems work properly.

damnitimpissed 3 years, 11 months ago

Kernal, see Popeye's comment at 12:40 a.m; that's what provoked my question about the contracts between security companies and law enforcement.

Regarding your other question, you tell me: how is any other independent watchdog group funded? Through donations and grants? I'm not terribly familiar with that process. But it seems unreasonable to expect security customers to give much of a care when there is no direct negative financial impact for false alarms at their homes, and it seems most police departments have already done all they can do, which is move burglar alarms to the lowest priority - clearly not an ideal solution. And if security companies are indeed subsidized, directly or indirectly, based on the number of alarms triggered, then obviously they have no reason to differentiate between a burglar and a tree branch.

But I suspect what you were getting at with your "who's going to pay?" is that the answer could very well be the collective tax base, which is ultimately the same entity - we taxpayers - that is suffering the most from the insane amounts of false alarms.

xr650rsource 3 years, 11 months ago

I know. It could be thousands of dollars a day.

xr650rsource 3 years, 11 months ago

We are trying to figure this out. Great questions! Thanks for the input.

xr650rsource 3 years, 11 months ago

good questions. We are researching this now.

Cait McKnelly 3 years, 11 months ago

We live literally just yards away from what used to be Whelan's (can't recall the name of the business now) Construction Supply. I cannot begin to tell you how many times we have been woken up by their burglar alarm. Frequently it's because we have had a minor interruption in electric service, just long enough to make every tech device in the house connected to the grid reboot. In all of the time we have lived here (12 years) and all of the times that alarm has gone off I doubt very seriously there was ever a burglary or other problem connected to it more than once or twice. I actually suspect that at one point the neighborhood hooligans got their jollies by making it go off. I haven't heard it go off as frequently, lately, so it's possible the business has upgraded their alarm. I do have to say that the next time I choose a place to live, proximity to a business will be a major consideration.

Chelsea Kapfer 3 years, 11 months ago

I have some e-mails out, and I am looking for answers to these problems. I think, since it's the holiday weekend I may not get any answers until Monday. I will keep searching, however. Tune into www.lawrencepolicescanner.blogspot.com and I am going to blog every false alarm I hear. I haven't been doing that, because it's kind of boring, but I am going to start, because i think we need to know the extent of this problem. Wonder what's going to happen tonight?

Chelsea Kapfer 3 years, 11 months ago

I am still waiting to hear back from Matt Sarna regarding actual numbers for how many false alarms are responded too in Douglas County.

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