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Los Angeles

3 Hope to Reopen Alarm Debate

August 01, 2003|Jessica Garrison and Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writers

A week after the Los Angeles Police Commission backed Mayor James K. Hahn's compromise plan to allow residents two false burglar alarms before police stop responding, several City Council members said Thursday that they plan to try to reopen the debate today.

Council members Ed Reyes, Antonio Villaraigosa and Jack Weiss said they do not want officers to respond to burglar alarms unless the alarms have been verified as genuine by a property owner or private security company

That position was endorsed by the Police Commission in January, then abandoned after it provoked protests from other council members, neighborhood groups and alarm companies.

But Reyes, Villaraigosa and Weiss said they felt obligated to reopen the debate because dispatching patrol cars to false alarms makes no sense in a city where many feel overwhelmed by violent crime. Last year, more than 90% of unverified burglar alarms were false. "The real problems are the murders," Reyes said.

Reopening the issue would require 10 votes, a number the three concede may be difficult to achieve, especially because many council members oppose the idea and some have said that not responding to alarms is like issuing an open invitation to thieves. "I'm perplexed why, at this point, someone would try to overturn the policy," said Councilwoman Janice Hahn. She said the policy had been crafted after weeks of deliberations and endorsed by the full council.

But Villaraigosa, who was not yet on the council when the decision was made, said the idea of police wasting time on false alarms "just boggles my mind."

Weiss added that reversing the burglar alarm policy could free 100 to 200 officers to respond to violent crimes.

For decades, police have complained about manpower wasted in responses to false alarms and have sought to change the policy. In January, the issue resurfaced after the Police Commission, at the urging of Chief William Bratton, voted to stop responding to unverified alarms.

But the commission delayed implementation after an outcry, setting the stage for months of wrangling. Finally, Hahn offered a compromise that would allow two false alarms before police stopped responding. Commissioners approved that plan, saying the idea that police would not respond to alarms had generated public anger and hostility toward the department.

Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, who supports the policy approved by the Police Commission, said she doesn't believe the effort to overturn it will succeed. The new policy "lets us reduce false alarms by a substantial amount and does not say to burglars in the city of Los Angeles, 'There's an open door for you to come in because the police will not respond,' " Greuel said.

For his part, Bratton said the department would support either decision. "As I've said all along, I want the department to get out of the burglar alarm business," he said.

Times staff writer Matea Gold contributed to this report.

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