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Power couple sues alarm firm

Sherry Lansing and William Friedkin say the system offered little protection against a Dec. 29 break-in at their Bel-Air home.

August 30, 2007|Richard Winton | Times Staff Writer

Private home security services have become a staple in L.A. neighborhoods both wealthy and modest.

But now, two Hollywood power players -- Oscar-winning director William Friedkin and his wife, former Paramount Studios boss Sherry Lansing -- contend that one system offered little protection and might even have been an advertisement for burglars.

They filed suit Wednesday against ADT Home Security, accusing the company with fraudulent misrepresentation and gross negligence in the way it handled a high-profile break-in at their Bel-Air home in December -- one of a string of burglaries in the area tied to a sophisticated group.

The suit alleges that Friedkin was promised 24-hour patrols by ADT's Bel-Air Patrol with a response time in minutes, thorough investigation of any alarm and a call to the LAPD.

But that is not what happened when the couple was on vacation overseas, the suit alleges. A forced entry triggered the ADT alarm system Dec. 29 at 11:04 p.m., but a patrolman dispatched by the company didn't arrive for an hour and 45 minutes, the suit alleges.

When the patrolman arrived at the house, "he did not notice any signs of a break-in," the lawsuit says.

The ADT patrolman spent less than 20 minutes at the house, the suit alleges. But when the couple's housekeeper arrived at 8:15 a.m. the next day, she heard the alarm blaring and saw a stepladder beneath the second-floor balcony, broken glass from the balcony's French doors and overturned furniture.

"Panicked, the housekeeper contacted the Los Angeles Police Department. This was the first the police or any other authorities heard of any foul play at the Friedkin and Lansing residence the previous night," the suit says.

ADT Home Security did not immediately return calls seeking a comment for this article.

The couple contends that burglars intentionally target ADT homes because of the security company's poor performance.

But LAPD Lt. Ray Lombardo, who is overseeing the investigation into the 70 burglaries that have netted about $8 million, said no such pattern had been detected.

In any case, the suit is likely to stir debate about security systems. Lombardo said security systems, while a good idea, are only as good as the service provided.

About 12% to 15% of homes in Southern California have an alarm system, according to the California Alarm Assn.

In 2005, there were more than 62,000 alarm dispatches by the LAPD, with 97% determined to be false, or unverified, according to police records.

In 2003, there was a push to regulate alarm calls. LAPD Chief William J. Bratton said his officers were wasting time and proposed responding only to verified alarms.

Instead, the Los Angeles Police Commission, with the advice of the City Council, decided to penalize those businesses and residences that produced multiple false alarms.

Friedkin and Lansing were among dozens of victims of a burglary ring that has hit the upscale communities of Bel-Air, Pacific Palisades, Brentwood and the Hollywood Hills over the last year.

In April, a safe was taken from the Hollywood Hills home of Duran Duran guitarist John Taylor and his wife, Gela Nash-Taylor, president of Juicy Couture, sources said, and the Westside mansion of country music stars Tim McGraw and Faith Hill was hit in February while they were in Tennessee.

Friedkin and Lansing said through their attorney that the main goal of the lawsuit was to raise awareness. A large amount of valuable jewelry, some of which was irreplaceable, was taken, the suit says.

"This lawsuit isn't about money. Mr. Friedkin and Ms. Lansing plan to donate what they recover to charity," said attorney Eric George, who represents the couple. "This is about misrepresentation."

Friedkin and Lansing found out about the burglary from their housekeeper the next day. Their call to ADT was routed to a center in Kansas City, Mo., and only after several more calls did they learn details of the case, the suit alleges.

The delays in response, the suits alleges, are partly due to ADT not having a patrol car dedicated to the Bel-Air area and to problems communicating with patrol vehicles when they are in the area, the suits alleges.

Friedkin and Lansing said in the suit that they paid $25,000 for a "top of the line" system after being told it "makes your home three times less likely to be burglarized." After the burglary the couple spent a unspecified "substantial amount" of money on new security measures for their home.

Steve Twining, member of the West Los Angeles Community Police Advisory Board, said residents have complained that ADT's Bel-Air Patrol is no longer a local company.

"When you call them they're all over the country. The Bel-Air Patrol use to be here. Some dispatcher in Kansas City isn't familiar with the street names here," he said.

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richard.winton@latimes.com

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