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LOS ANGELES : Council Hears Debate Over False Alarms

July 24, 1994|HUGO MARTIN

Police and the security alarm industry, longtime partners in the war against crime, clashed at a Los Angeles City Council meeting last week during a debate over a proposal to reduce false alarm calls to police.

Under the proposal by Councilman Marvin Braude, police would not respond to an automated alarm call until a break-in is verified by a building occupant or by the alarm company, via a security guard or video surveillance cameras.

Representatives of the alarm industry said the cost of adding such guards and cameras to all systems would make them too expensive for many businesses. And without alarms, insurance rates would soar, they argued.

"Don't let this ordinance be the proverbial door that hits business on the way out," said Robert Garrison, a regional manager for an international alarm firm.

But the Los Angeles Police Department supports Braude's proposal, saying that 95% of the 161,000 alarm calls made last year were false and accounted for 18% of all calls for police service.

"False alarm calls are a major drain on police resources that are already limited," said a police commission study submitted to the council.

The council voted to postpone a decision on the proposal, pending further study by its Public Safety Committee. The panel will consider it Monday.

While both sides agreed that false alarms are a drain on police services, most council members said they would not support a measure that allows police to ignore those security alarm calls that are not verified.

Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, who was seriously injured by an intruder in her Venice home just before her 1987 election, said police response to all alarm calls is crucial."If it ever happens to me again, I want to know that when I hit that button, someone hits the road," she said.

Councilwoman Laura Chick, who first proposed stiffer fines for such calls, chastised the alarm industry for promising to work with the city to reduce false alarms while supporting state legislation that would make it harder for the city to collect such fines.

The bill, which will be heard by a Senate appropriations committee next month, would prohibit the city from charging a fine for a false alarm if police fail to answer the call within 30 minutes.

"This demonstrates your unique ability to talk out of both sides of your mouth," Chick said, looking out at a group of about two dozen industry representatives in the council chambers.

Because the average police response to alarm calls in Los Angeles is 55 minutes, the law would drastically cut the city's ability to collect false alarm fees, which totaled $2.5 million last year.

The city issues an $80 fine on each false alarm after the fourth such call within a 12-month period, regardless of how long it takes police to respond.

Police spent $8.5 million last year in service hours responding to 161,000 security alarm calls, the report said. During the same period, the city collected about $5.7 million in revenues from alarm system permits and false alarm fines, leaving a deficit of $2.8 million.

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