L.A. Council Tables Motion to Take Control of Alarm Policy

LOS ANGELES

A member of the Los Angeles City Council withdrew her
motion Nov. 4 for the council to take over jurisdiction of
the city’s new burglar alarm dispatch policy dependent on
the city’s police commission delaying its implementation
for 60 days.

The city’s long-debated alarm policy – in which officers
would stop responding to unverified alarms at locations
with more than two false alarm calls in the previous year –
was to have gone into effect Nov. 1, but was delayed by the
Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) in response to
Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski’s motion to enact Section
245 of the Los Angeles City Charter and assert city council
jurisdiction over the policy from the city’s Police
Commission.

At the council’s meeting Nov. 4, Miscikowski withdrew her
motion after a representative from the commission said it
will consider a 60-day delay in implementing the policy.
Also, a majority of council members said they
wouldn’t support the motion and were concerned that the
policy didn’t need to be re-examined again.

“If we implement 245, we can open this whole can of worms
again, which I don’t want to do,” says Councilman Dennis
Zine, a former LAPD officer. “If the police department is
willing to hold off, I’m willing to support that. The
problem is not with the policy, but with the system not
implementing the policy. Doing this won’t fix that.”
An alarm policy initially adopted by the commission in
January would have had officers no longer respond to alarms
unless the property owner was able to verify it through
cameras or on-site inspection. After protests from
residents and the alarm industry, the policy was adjusted
in July to force a verified response only after two
previous false alarms in a calendar year.

Miscikowski, who has said she opposes unverified response
to alarms, says she supports the revised policy but says
the public has not been educated enough and there are
hardware problems on the dispatch end. She says that while
the LAPD’s current dispatch system shows on operators’
screens the number of past false alarms at an address, a
new $25 million system to be installed by January does not
and will have to be upgraded in the next 60 days to do
so. “City agencies haven’t talked together to implement
this policy and make this work,” Miscikowski says. “We
can’t have the department doing one thing and all the
pieces not coming together.

Miscikowski suggests that the $50,000 to $400,000 it will
cost to upgrade the new system should be paid for by alarm
users and is also reason to delay the policy. “All the
costs need to be recovered from the users. That is not now
in place and needs to be in place,” Miscikowski says. “If
we don’t come up with cost recovery, it’s going to come out
of the general fund that’s in a precarious position.”

However, fellow Councilwoman Janice Hahn says alarm users
shouldn’t have the bill passed along to them, saying the
system would have needed the fix whether the new policy was
put into place or not and also suggested it can be paid for
through the same voter-approved bond that funded the new
dispatch system in the first place.

While some council members said the policy shouldn’t be
reopened for debate, Councilman Jack Weiss, who with
Miscikowski has been a supporter of verified response,
suggested the alarms have little use and are a nuisance to
law enforcement. “This morning I ran into a couple of
police officers and I asked them to tell me about the
burglar alarm issue. I asked them, ‘Have you ever found a
bad guy?’ They said they could count on one hand on when
any of the three of them ever came upon an actual
criminal,” Weiss says. “The current system doesn’t make us
any safer.”

Councilwoman Wendy Greuel said she has also spoken with
police officers and differed with Weiss’ assessment. “The
reason they haven’t encountered a bad guy is the criminal
knows the police will come,” Gruel says. “When we respond
to an alarm, we send a message that we are protecting our
citizenry. We don’t want to send a message to those who
would steal from our homes that we would not respond to
those alarms.”

Weiss also got into an exchange with Councilman Bernard
Parks, who was chief of the LAPD from 1997 to 2002, after
Weiss said that police are being diverted from poor, high-
crime areas where residents don’t have alarms to upper-
class areas with little crime and many burglar alarms. “We
need to realize factually what officers do and it’s
important we not mislead the public that there is a large
cadre of officers that will be shifted to a more dangerous
part of the city if they don’t respond to burglar alarms,”
Parks says.

Weiss then noted that it was Parks who first introduced
verified response as an option for the LAPD while he was
chief in 1998. “The first person who gave me a tutorial on
why the policy had to be changed was you,” Weiss told
Parks. “We’ll have to give you another lesson,” Parks
responded.

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