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Council Rejects Motion to Veto New Alarm Policy

Police Commission plan to ignore unverified burglary alerts survives in 8-4 vote. Officials also ask for rule to extend to government buildings.

February 05, 2003|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday dropped the threat to veto a new policy requiring verification that a break-in is underway before police respond to burglar alarms.

The move came after opponents failed to muster enough votes to overturn the Police Commission.

In addition to voting 8 to 4 to shelve the veto motion on the last day it could be acted upon, the council also asked the commission to consider extending the rule to council offices and other government buildings. The council has been criticized for being exempt from the policy.

"I think it's a fair thing to put on the table," said Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski.

The council dropped the veto after Police Commission President Rick Caruso assured council members in writing that his panel would delay implementing the policy for 60 days and would consider recommendations made by a new task force.

"I have the assurance of the Police Commission that they will take seriously the recommendations," said Councilman Dennis Zine, who previously had supported a veto but voted Tuesday to shelve the motion.

Chief William J. Bratton and the commission said the Police Department needs to alter its approach to alarms because 92% last year were false.

Under the rule change, a break-in must be verified by the property owner or a security company representative before police will respond to an alarm. A verified alarm will be given high priority, meaning officers will arrive in 10 minutes or less. Because of the large number of false alarms, they are not a priority, and officers often take 45 minutes or more to respond.

Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who voted against shelving the veto, said she felt the policy would not provide the police protection alarm owners deserve.

"While many of you may trust [the commission] more than I do, what I will pledge to do is we will hold this Police Commission accountable," Hahn said. "And when 60 days is up, if they have ignored the task force recommendations, we will have a serious problem with that."

Although the council would not have any legal recourse to overturn the policy, Councilman Tom LaBonge noted that the Police Commission will have a chance to act on any recommended changes by April 15, a week before the council takes up the LAPD budget.

Councilman Nate Holden -- who voted with Hahn, Hal Bernson and Nick Pacheco against shelving the veto -- said the council was giving in to an appointed commission that disregarded the council's concerns.

"This is outrageous," Holden told his colleagues. "The fact of the matter is you acquiesced, you surrendered your power, and you won't get it back."

Hahn said commission representatives did not return her calls or provide information on more than 40 false alarms at her own council field offices.

"We cannot have this kind of arrogance from a citizen commission," she said.

Speaking at a news conference immediately after the decision, Caruso said the commission "would certainly consider any ... changes" suggested by a task force, which will be convened to study the issue. But he defended the commission's earlier decision.

"I don't think arrogance should be confused with independence," he said. "We are standing firm in this position because we think it is right."

The alarm industry is not ruling out going to court to block the policy change but plans to give the task force a chance to work, said industry lobbyist Howard Sunkin.

"We look forward to having a good dialogue with the task force during the next 60 days," he said.

Meanwhile, the Police Commission delayed taking action until next week on a Times request for information on the number of false alarms at the homes and offices of city officials. A majority of commissioners said they were inclined to support the request, but added that they want to confer with Bratton on security implications before releasing the data.

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Times staff writers Matea Gold and Jill Leovy contributed to this report.

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