Eight Clark County police agencies have set a precedent on burglar alarm response in an effort to combat the false alarm problem. The procedural order alleviates the burden on local law enforcement, and the area has seen a 40-percent drop in burglaries, despite a doubling in population.
“Everyone in the security industry realizes the financial burden on excessive false alarms,” says Bob Ohm, chairman of the Alarm Industry Research Education Foundation’s (AIREF) false alarm reduction program. Ohm, like many other members of the industry, is working toward a mutual solution to this ever-present problem, as well as educating end users about preventive methods.
Through projects, such as the Model States and Model Cities Programs, nationwide involvement and unification among states, cities and counties are encouraged in an effort to form an amicable resolution to false alarms. However, while the industry agrees something must be done, proposed solutions, such as no-response policies, can sometimes create friction between the industry and law enforcement agencies.
The city of Las Vegas recently adopted a petition of non-response for burglar alarms, excluding holdups, ambushes and panics. According to police, the new procedural order has contributed to a significant decline in the city’s burglary rate, and has decreased the amount of false alarms.
Ethel Whitney, president of Alarmco, Inc. in Las Vegas, argues that some of the police department’s figures are somewhat exaggerated. “Our false alarm rate in Las Vegas is very low despite the policy,” she says. “On average, there are about three false alarms per week.”
“The police shouldn’t base their decision not to respond on the few number of false alarms, but on the number of possible alarms,” Whitney says.
Meanwhile, according to another alarm dealer, the policy has actually increased sales because of the opportunity for private response contracts.
The Las Vegas story depicts a history of gradually limiting alarm response since 1977. Finally, in 1990, the city enacted a restrictive non-response policy in which low-dispatch priority is given to unconfirmed alarm signals.
There are between 3,000 to 8,000 new residents migrating to Las Vegas every month. “If you talk to the sheriff, it’s 3,000. If you talk to the chamber of commerce, it’s 8,000,” says Captain Mike Ault, commander of the communications bureau of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. “If you get 8,000 people moving into the city, you’re going to get a percentage moving out.”
Today, the population in the city of Las Vegas has reached more than 1 million. Ault adds that based on recent demographics and studies conducted, researchers predict a population explosion by 2005, with a city census of 2 million people.
The Las Vegas Metro Police Department (LVMPD) is one of eight Clark County police organizations. In addition to a police school, there are agencies that tend to the suburbs of Henderson, North Las Vegas, Mesquite and Boulder City.
On Oct. 7, 1977, Clark County made the decision to place a limitation on what the police would respond to due to an unbelievable increase in work load. The policy states that the police department will not respond to burglary and robbery alarms at places of business, which have violated the county and city ordinances by not maintaining trouble-free alarms to the extent of four or more false alarms per month for two consecutive months.
On Aug. 20, 1990, the city of Las Vegas and the LVMPD underwent more changes in their response policy. The department developed an interim policy that further restricted response and established dispatch precedence codes for alarms.
The policy works as follows: Panic alarms and silent alarms are classified as Precedent 0 (the highest precedent). In addition, ringing burglar alarms are classified as a lower priority Precedent 2 signal.
“It is a policy of this department not to respond to non-verified commercial or residential burglar alarms. It doesn’t mean we won’t respond. It means if it’s not verified, it’s not worth our time in gold, ” he says.
The police department defines two types of alarms: confirmed and non-verified alarms. The policy was only applicable to burglar alarms. “It had absolutely nothing to do with robbery alarms,” Ault says.
“When it’s confirmed, we go because it’s classified as Precedent 1,” Ault says. “And, when the alarm company calls us, we create a Precedent 3 event, which is broadcast only.”
In November 1992, the burglar alarm policy was revised to include panic alarms as a confirmed alarm. “We go on all panic alarms, just like robbery alarms,” Ault says.
“We also created an exception for fire arms, dealers and pawnshops,” he says. Thus, the sheriff issued a revised procedural order on Feb. 4, 1994.
“We took a bold step. So far, it’s paying off, but nothing remains the same forever,” he says. “If the tide turns, we might have to re-adjust our policy. My department manual is a living document. It’s revised when conditions change and it can be revised in the future.”