Nonpayers of Alarm Fee in Tulsa (Okla.) Still Receive Police Dispatch

Residents and businesses that pay an annual fee are guaranteed police dispatch to intrusion alarms, but a computer glitch has compromised the program.

TULSA, Okla. – For almost four years now, homeowners and businesses here have paid more than $1 million in fees to a voluntary city program that is supposed to ensure that police will be the first to respond to an intrusion alarm on their property.

However, due to a technical issue with the city’s emergency dispatch system, alarm owners who paid into the program have been receiving the same level of service as those who didn’t pay, Oklahoma Watch reports.

That means the 911 system has unnecessarily dispatched officers thousands of times to Tulsa homes and businesses, since only a tiny fraction of intrusion alarms involve an actual crime, the Tulsa Police Department told the nonprofit, investigative journalism organization.

The reason for the inefficiency? Incompatible computer systems.

When an intrusion alarm at a residence or business is triggered, the alarm company will contact the owner to confirm if it is a false alarm. If necessary, the alarm company then contacts the police. Under the city’s First Response Certificate program, individuals and businesses pay an annual fee to guarantee that police will respond to their intrusion alarms. For everyone else, police are considered “secondary responders” who will only investigate if there is evidence of a crime.

However, the city’s dispatch system and its database of alarm certificate holders do not interface well with each other, which means the default response is to send police to every intruder alarm call, according to the report.

Karen Gilbert, chairwoman of the City Council, tells Oklahoma Watch while the council was familiar with similar problems with the fire dispatch system, she was unaware that those problems extended to the alarm certificate database and police dispatch system.

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“No one has said anything to us about it,” she said.

Less Than 1% Confirmed Intrusion Alarms

Of the 29,211 intrusion alarms that led to a dispatch of police in 2016, only 115, or less than 1%, were confirmed to involve an actual crime, according to an analysis by the Tulsa Police Department after inquiries by Oklahoma Watch.

Sixty-eight percent were confirmed false alarms, 21% had an unknown disposition and 10% were canceled before officers arrived, the analysis found. More than 20,000 man-hours were spent in 2016 responding to alarm calls, the police department estimates.

The First Response Certificate program is only for intrusion alarms, excludes fire alarms and panic alarms. In 2016, there were 8,082 residential alarm certificates and 1,888 commercial alarm certificates, the city’s finance division reported.

Go here to read the complete report.

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