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Commentary | VOICES: A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY ISSUES

Burglar Alarm Issue Whips Up an L.A. Debate

Opposing positions of two residents reflect the division in the community

January 25, 2003

According to Los Angeles Police Department statistics, 92% of the 136,000 burglary alarm calls the LAPD receives every year are false. Chief William J. Bratton has said officers spend 15% of their patrol time responding to false alarms, a waste of both time and money. Earlier this month, the Police Commission approved a proposal ordering officers to stop responding to any burglar alarm not verified by a property owner or private security company. The policy would not apply to alarms from firearms businesses or to so-called panic alarms. The City Council has taken jurisdiction over the ruling to reconsider the Police Commission's decision. MAURA E. MONTELLANO spoke with two residents about the new proposal.

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JOE SHEA,

President of the Ivar Hill Community Assn. in Hollywood.

Chief Bratton says it's insane to send the equivalent of a division of officers on a wild goose chase, and he's right. The number of false alarms is so overwhelming that we waste hundreds of thousands of man-hours trying to respond to them when we can use them to respond to real crimes.

There are approximately 125,000 false alarms each year, and to respond to them requires two officers per car. If each response takes an hour, that's 250,000 man-hours. Many of those calls require inspection of the premises, and conversations with property owners and neighbors. By not wasting that time, they could dramatically cut the waiting time on 911 calls.

Our neighborhood is experiencing a resurgence in gang violence. More than 25 people have been shot between Ivar and Cahuenga. When we call the police, we get a taped message urging us to hold. So one of the things that would happen is that there would be a much quicker response to the initial 911 call by the dispatch center and then a faster response by the police.

One alternative is for the city to create a system of alarm franchises like the cable franchises and hand them out to service providers that are capable of responding to the alarms they install. Another idea is to require that all alarm providers maintain Web cams in the locations they service and access those when an alarm call comes in before calling the police. There would be a one-time expense for the camera (pretty low these days) and there would be a small expense for including that home or business on a Web site where its link could be accessed. It shouldn't drive up the price materially. Bratton has pointed out that $25 of the $30 monthly fee now paid by clients is profit anyway. So there is no reason the client should absorb it; instead, the companies should reduce their margin of profit slightly.

The real benefit would come in deploying more officers, freed from these false alarm calls, to high-crime neighborhoods. The security companies' approach to this matter is extremely cynical. It is driven by greed, profit and the consideration that they know they have influence with our neighborhood councils, council members and Chamber of Commerce, in light of the fact that all council members receive free service at their homes.

I don't think charging higher false alarm fees but still deploying officers to answer these calls is the answer. The police are not there for the companies. The companies have to bear the burden of the alarms they install.

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DONALD STUDT

Hollywood Hills

I think everybody is in agreement that the system is dreadfully flawed. I can understand why the police want to cut this cost, but it shouldn't be done at the expense of our safety.

The Police Commission tried to sneak in this nonresponse policy that has angered the residents of Los Angeles. Commissioners propose that the alarm must be verified by the owner or security company, but this has many shortcomings.

Someone could break into your home, setting off the alarm, and by the time you get to the system they could be standing before you with a gun to your head telling you not to touch the panic button. So how can the companies verify that alarm? If you live in an area where the home can't be seen, then how can a neighbor be on the lookout for you? It's not unusual, as in my case, to have three roads that access the house. I do not have a single neighbor who can see my windows or doors, day or night. My neighbors wouldn't know if it's a burglar or an animal that tripped my alarm.

I am a 76-year-old man and I feel abandoned by the Police Department. This policy gives intruders the right to steal and to terrorize. They get at least an hour to do as they will.

I have been burglarized five times. Twice as a child. I would not want a child or an adult to go through the same horror and devastation I experienced. It still sticks with me 70 years later.

At my present home, I have been burglarized three times. Living in the Hollywood Hills is radically different than living in the flat areas of Los Angeles because we very seldom see any police in the area.

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