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Grappling With Problem of False Alarms

July 12, 1998|DAN GORDON

Have you noticed how nonchalant people have become around a blaring car alarm? No one really expects to spot a would-be thief--much less a police officer rushing to the scene.

That's because with so many car alarms, and such a high percentage of them being set off falsely, the police have more important things to do.

Now, get ready for this possibility:

No police response to your residential alarm--at least not until you or your home security company can verify that there's an actual emergency.

Many municipalities are grappling with the question of how to deal with residential alarms' drain on resources. Los Angeles has joined others in instituting fines ($80 after two false alarms in any 12-month period).

The city's 149,600 false alarm calls last year resulted in about $6.3 million in false alarm fees, according to Lillian Sedlak, the L.A. Police Commission's supervisor of alarms.

The city also requires homeowners to carry permits for their alarms (120,000 residents have licensed their systems, but many more households are believe to be unlicensed) and has worked with the industry in creating classes in which alarm owners can learn how to better operate their systems in exchange for the waiving of a fine, much like the traffic school system.

Sedlak believes this has had something to do with the city's reduced false alarm rate--down to 92% last year from 96% in 1996.

But the problem isn't going away, and some believe it's only a matter of time before Los Angeles follows the lead of several cities across the nation that have begun to require, or are considering requiring, private response to any unverified alarm call.

"With the volume of alarms being installed, eventually we're going to hit a point where the public sector won't be able to respond, and that time is going to come quickly," said Jim Romano, president of Bel-Air Patrol.

If Los Angeles takes that step, don't expect it to be popular.

"People are still nervous about anyone other than the police responding," said Doug Wankel, vice president in charge of patrol services for Protection One.

"But when the police are responding to all of these false alarms, it's keeping them from doing other important things."

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