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Alarm Policy Review Urged

Two on council seek to reconsider a decision limiting LAPD response to burglar alarms.

January 09, 2003|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles City Council members moved Wednesday to reconsider the Police Commission's decision to order police officers to stop responding to burglar alarms unless there is verification that they are genuine.

Though a few council members said they support the commission's action, there appeared to be widespread concern on the council about the policy change.

Critics said they are confident that they have enough support to have the council take up the issue, but it was uncertain whether they could muster the 10 votes needed to overturn the commission's decision, which was made Tuesday.

With city officials fielding hundreds of angry calls from constituents about the commission's action, Councilwomen Janice Hahn and Wendy Greuel introduced a motion Wednesday to have the council take over jurisdiction of the matter so it can be reconsidered.

"The Police Commission's action may have been hasty and premature," Hahn said. "Implementing a policy of 'no response' to burglar alarms will defeat the efforts of concerned residents to improve security in their neighborhoods."

Mayor James K. Hahn, the councilwoman's brother, has not taken a position on the policy change.

The commission acted on the recommendation of Chief William J. Bratton, who said 92% of the 136,000 burglary alarm calls received by the LAPD annually are false. He said officers spend 15% of their patrol time responding to false alarms.

The commission approved a special order that directs police officers not to respond to burglar alarms unless they are verified to be genuine by a property owner or private security company.

Councilman Nate Holden said he is worried that the new policy might send the wrong signal to the public and criminals.

"We have to take into consideration that would-be burglars, knowing the police are not going to show up, would take all the time that they want," Holden said.

However, Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, who chairs the council's Public Safety Committee, and Councilman Dennis Zine, a member of the panel, said they would fight any effort to overturn the Police Commission.

"More than nine out of 10 alarm calls are false, and this change would free up patrol officers from the dead-end time that they spend," Miscikowski said.

Zine, a reserve officer with the LAPD who formerly was a full-time policeman, said he spent Christmas Day on duty responding to 15 burglary alarm calls, all of which were false alarms.

"What we did that day was go from one false alarm to another all day," Zine said.

Because officers already treat alarms as non-priority calls, Zine said, it routinely takes 30 to 45 minutes for them to respond to them, giving any burglar plenty of time to finish and leave.

Policy decisions by the Police Commission do not automatically go to the council for review, but the council can take up an issue if two-thirds of its 15 members want to hear the matter. That's something Greuel and others predicted would happen.

Police Commission Executive Director Joe Gunn, who spent much of Wednesday talking to council members, said the body may have the votes to hear the matter, but he doubts that it will muster the two-thirds vote to negate the commission's action.

The council was heavily lobbied by advocates on both sides of the issue Wednesday. Representatives of Bratton and the Los Angeles Security Alarm Assn. buttonholed council members to make their cases.

The association has spent about $50,000 in recent months to hire a leading lobbyist, Cerrell and Associates, to defeat the policy change. Member alarm companies have also made political contributions in the last two months, said Howard Sunkin, a lobbyist working on the matter for Cerrell. Contribution reports covering the last months of 2002 have not yet been filed with the city.

Sunkin on Wednesday urged council members to consider a compromise plan that he contends could reduce false alarms by 75%. The plan includes requiring verification, but only when an alarm call comes in from a source with a history of false alarms.

Another proposal by the alarm industry would be to turn over to the city the names of alarm subscribers who have not obtained city permits, which could bring the city an extra $7.5 million annually to cover police response costs.

City records indicate that there are about 140,000 alarm subscribers in the city, but Sunkin said the figure is more like 300,000. Council members said one compromise might be to increase fees and fines involving false alarms.

"Alarms are called in for a reason," Council President Alex Padilla said. "We will see if there is a middle ground in terms of the policy or how they implement it," he added.

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