Alarm Industry Stunned by San Jose’s Sudden Shift to Nonresponse

SAN JOSE, Calif. — The police department here is no longer responding to unverified alarms as of Jan. 1, a change in policy that alarm industry officials say was sudden and unexpected. 

California Alarm Association (CAA) learned about the nonresponse policy after a member company from the Silicon Valley Alarm Association (SVAA) read a statement that was posted on the police department’s Web site a week before Christmas. The announcement “came as a complete surprise” to the alarm industry, which has previously worked closely with the city on alarm management issues, CAA Executive Director Jerry Lenander tells SSI.

“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,” he says.

Police officials say they are following the lead of other cities including Fremont, Calif., Las Vegas and Salt Lake City that have stopped automatic alarm responses to limit false dispatches.

Compounding the strains on the SJPD’s resources, the city’s budget shortfall led the department to cut 66 police officers from the force in 2011, 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 says. “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.”

SJPD says it will continue to respond to alarms involving banks, ATMs, critical infrastructure, firearms dealers and explosives, as well as panic buttons or robbery alarms.

The police department says in 2008 it conducted a study of false alarms and found that more than 98% of all alarm calls in the city were in fact determined to be false alarms. The cost of the false alarms to the department was $662,000, according to the study. SJPD also maintains that it responded to 12,450 alarm calls in 2010, and of those, 98.4% 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% 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.”

The alarm industry maintains the 2008 SJPD false alarm audit – the results of which are posted on the department’s Web site – is misguided, 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 in 2011, 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 redeploying patrol resources. So, for the SJPD to say, ‘We have to respond to more important crimes,’ is not really a proven fact.”


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