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Oops, I Did it Again!

Written by Posted On Sunday, 27 February 2005 16:00

We have probably all done it before, set off our own alarm system. While having the system can certainly be very comforting, home alarms can be a nuisance for police. All too often, police are being tasked with responding to home alarm systems that have been falsely activated.

In fact, nationally, 94 percent to 99 percent of residential and commercial alarm activations are erroneously activated. In San Diego, California, police report that 99.7 percent of all calls are false alarms.

"And out of that, .02 of those are commercial alarms that are valid. So you're talking about quite a few alarms that go off before we find valid [alarm calls]," says Scott Morrison, Community Relations Officer for the San Diego Police Department, Northern Division.

Most homeowners, who have alarms, have probably set them off at least a few times. Usually a quick call to the alarm company can stop the police from being alerted.

However, all too often that doesn't happen. It's estimated that nationally $1.8 billion is spent annually on responding to false activations.

Two Temple University researchers recently took a closer look at the impact of false alarms. They found that the issue isn't just problematic because of the enormous amount of money being wasted responding to invalid alarms, but it's also tying up police resources.

"Alarm calls are a priority one call and when those calls come in, they take priority over anything else that may come in. So I could be coming over to your place for another call, but when an alarm call comes in we must go to that call first. It does require a minimum of two officers to respond. [The calls] are taking and moving a lot of manpower from one location of the city to another location of the city, community, neighborhood, or street," says Morrison.

Most alarms are falsely activated due to a lack of communication with family members or even with people who have been hired to work on a property.

"A lot of times we'll get out there and it'll be a tile guy or a painter and he'll say 'Well, the owners told me they were going to turn off the alarm.' But nobody ever made sure the information got passed on," says Morrison.

Economics professors Erwin Blackstone and Simon Hakim from Temple's Fox School of Business and Management have proposed that responses to residential alarms be shifted from the police to the private sector. The pair suggests, in their economic model that a private security company should initially respond to check the property. Police would then be called if an actual or attempted burglary occurred or is occurring.

"Ten to twenty percent of patrol officers' time is spent on false alarms. Solving this problem would be the equivalent of increasing the size of the nation's police forces by 35,000," explains Hakim.

In many cities, having a home alarm requires registering it with the police department and paying a fee and fines for false activations.

"When fines are punitive, it can become a disincentive for using alarms and actually reduce the level of security in a community," says Blackstone. He also points out that "In many locales, schools and other public facilities -- among the highest false activators -- are actually exempt from the fines, and commercial establishments can simply write them off as a routine cost of doing business."

Morrison says that some homeowners are now directing the alarm company to not call police right away, "A lot of people will call the alarm company and say 'Do not call the police until you have double checked to make sure the alarm has gone off and call me at work, here's my cell phone number and my wife at this number.'"

Despite the high level of false alarms, Morrison says, "We still do catch people who are at the alarms who have actually activated them and were burglarizing the place."

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Phoebe Chongchua

Phoebe Chongchua is an award-winning journalist, an author, customer service trainer/speaker, and founder of Setting the Service Standard, a customer service training and consulting program offered by Live Fit Enterprises (LFE) based in San Diego, California. She is the publisher of Live Fit Magazine, an online publication that features information on real estate/finance, physical fitness, travel, and philanthropy. Her company, LFE, specializes in media services including marketing, PR, writing, commercials, corporate videos, customer service training, and keynotes & seminars. Visit her magazine website:

Phoebe's articles, feature stories, and columns appear in various publications including The Coast News, Del Mar Village Voice, Rancho Santa Fe Review, and Today's Local News in San Diego, as well as numerous Internet sites. She holds a California real estate license. Phoebe worked for KGTV/10News in San Diego as a Newscaster, Reporter and Community Affairs Specialist for more than a decade. Phoebe's writing is also featured in Donald Trump's book: The Best Real Estate Advice I Ever Received and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Buying Foreclosures. She is the author of If the Trash Stinks, TAKE IT OUT! 14 Worriless Principles for Your Success.

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