L.A. Police Commission Puts Off Policy on Alarms


The Los Angeles Police Commission June 17 suspended implementing its new alarm policy to give city officials more time to devise a compromise. It did however tell officers that day they no longer need to respond to unverified burglar alarms.

The suspension of the new policy, which requires physical verification of alarms, such as by a security guard, before police respond, was sought by Mayor James Hahn to provide more time for discussion of a counterproposal made by a majority of the city council that would cut off police response only after three false alarms within one year. The commission granted a 30-day extension, and said it would wait until July 15 to implement the new policy.

The commission however modified the new policy, approved in January, by requiring the broadcast of all burglar alarm calls, and giving officers the discretion to respond or not.

Police commissioners rejected a plea from four council members, led by Councilwoman Janice Hahn, the mayor’s sister, for the “three strikes” policy. Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, another supporter of the three-strikes plan, said June 17 that she will try to challenge the commission’s authority to make the final decision.

Greuel and other council members urged the commission to accept the 31-point plan proposed by a task force made up of commission and council staff, members of the public and representatives from the alarm industry.

“If you don’t adopt these recommendations, you’ll be ignoring not only members of the task force, but you’ll be ignoring the recommendation of the city council and every resident of Los Angeles those council members represent,” Janice Hahn warned the commission.

About 250,000 to 300,000 residents rely on alarms for protection in Los Angeles, according to the police commission, based on information provided by alarm industry. Last year, the LAPD responded to all alarms, totaling 121,973. The department said 92 percent of those alarms were false.

For the most part, proponents of the new policy said the concern with this issue is more about deployment of officers than of funding issues. Joe Gunn, former executive director of the commission, told commission members that even the council compromise created too much unnecessary work for officers. He said the proposed plan would still require officers to respond to approximately 61,000 calls that are false, the equivalent of 8 percent of available patrol time “wasted.”

Gunn also took aim at council members and accused the alarm industry of fear-mongering. “The alarm industry promised something to the consumers and what they promised them was the LAPD would be their runner,” said Gunn, who helped write the no-response policy. “The LAPD would do their job and respond to false alarms. That promise never came from the police department or police commission.”

Alarm company owners remain optimistic that the commission will adopt something other than a verified alarm policy, said industry lobbyist Howard Sunkin. “Three strikes is an alternative that works very effectively,” Sunkin said. Contrary to the commission staff, he maintained that the June 17 vote opened the door to a review of the issue by the council under the proposition governing the police panel’s powers and actions.

The alarm debate follows a bitter dispute over whether the city can afford to hire hundreds of new police officers. The mayor and police chief pushed for new hires, but the council disagreed, saying that there wasn’t enough money. Without those officers, there is even more of an impetus to free up the current rank-and-file from having to respond to burglar alarms, Caruso argued at the meeting.

Les Gold of Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp, who represents the alarm industry, said at an alarm industry meeting held the night of June 17 that he believes the alarm industry is an unintended victim in this matter. “This probably has nothing to do with us,” he said.

One compromise addressed at the meeting would be to allow property owners two false alarms a year before verification would be required for a police response. In exchange, the alarm industry would turn over its list of clients, which would allow the city to collect about $7 million annually in unpaid alarm permits, according to a source involved in the negotiations, reported the Los Angeles Times.

In a letter to commissioners, Hahn and Greuel also suggested allowing two false alarms or strikes per year, which they said would reduce police deployment to false alarms as much as 43 percent. The police commission cited concerns over creating a two-tiered system with this format, but the alarm industry doesn’t believe that is a valid argument.

“The police commission has been monitoring the number of false alarms for years. Now all of a sudden they can’t count false alarms?” Gold argued.

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