SAN JOSE, Calif. — The San Jose Police Department’s (SJPD) recent announcement that it will no longer respond to unverified alarms has caused the California Alarm Association (CAA) to contest the policy, which takes effect on Jan. 1.
CAA learned about the nonresponse policy after a member company from the Silicon Valley Alarm Association (SVAA) saw the posting on the San Jose Police Department’s (SJPD) Web site before Christmas. The announcement was a shock for the association, which worked with the police department for years on general alarm management issues, CAA Executive Director Jerry Lenander tells SSI.
“This came as a complete surprise,” he says. “The SJPD represented that they wanted to work with the industry and community, but we had no notice of the policy change until the posting on their Web site. It concerns us that this was done during the holidays when it’s really difficult to find people. If they are going to radically change their response policy, people have to give it consideration and make other arrangements.”
According to CAA, the sudden policy change provides no opportunity for alarm owners to arrange or fund private security guards to respond to alarms, and could potentially compel homeowners and business owners to undertake responding to alarms on their own. As it stands, the department notified alarm users about the policy change a few days before Christmas, Lenander says.
For its part, the SJPD maintains that it responded to 12,450 alarm calls in 2010, and of those, 98.4 percent were false alarms, SJPD Public Information Officer Jose Garcia tells SSI.
“We only arrested two individuals out of the more than 12,000 calls,” he says. “Less than 1 percent of the calls resulted in a police report being filed. Responding and investigating to those alarms wasted a lot of time and resources when a lot of the times it’s a mechanical problem or a user error.”
Compounding the strains on the SJPD’s resources, the city’s budget shortfall led the department to cut 66 police officers from the force while reducing employee salaries by 10 percent, according to Michelle McGurk, senior policy adviser and public information officer for the office of San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed.
“This proposal was approved as part of San Jose’s budget last June,” McGurk tells SSI. “We face another $25 million shortfall in June 2012. Given our budget situation, our police department is choosing to deploy officers where they are needed the most.”
CAA sent a letter to the mayor’s office asking him to postpone implementing the new plan until the city can research other options to help fund police response and generate new revenues. Additionally, CAA maintains that if the policy goes into effect on Jan. 1, many business and homeowners will be unprotected.
However, the department will continue to respond to alarms installed in banks and businesses that handle firearms, Garcia says.
A major concern for the alarm industry is that the information the police department has posted on its Web site — a report titled “False Alarm Response Audit” — is outdated, Lenander says.
“The fact that they relied on 2008 study caught my eye because we know that there has been a significant reduction in alarm calls because of enhanced call verification [ECV],” he says. “So that 98 percent false alarm rate is discredited because it’s not a valid measurement.”
To come up with an accurate percentage, SJPD would have to research and analyze false alarm data, similar to what the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) performed earlier this year, according to Lenander. By analyzing the data, the LAPD determined where the false alarms were coming from, which allowed the department to reduce its alarm dispatches from 150,000 to 40,000.
“Traditionally, the municipal governments are the biggest offenders,” Lenander says. “But once you start stripping some of those away, you really find out where your problem is and you can address it. Additionally, LAPD noted that if they eliminated all response to alarms, there would be no tangible savings in re-deploying patrol resources. So, for the SJPD to say, ‘We have to respond to more important crimes,’ is not really a proven fact.”
Neither the city nor the police department currently have any plans to work with the alarm industry to address these issues, Garcia says.
“At this point, the decision has been vetted through city hall and the city council,” he says. “All the council members are all aware of the policy change, and they essentially have concurred.”