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Police Make It Harder to Break Into Police Post

Times Staff Writer

You would think that the dozens of snarling police dogs, the popping guns on the firing range, and the razor-edged barbed wire fences would discourage burglars and vandals.

Not to mention the nature of the target itself--the headquarters of the San Diego Police Department’s Special Weapons and Tactics team and K-9 corps in the Southeast.

The police, however, are playing it safe. On Tuesday, amid a modest song-and-dance for the benefit of attending media, they flipped on a state-of-the-art surveillance system--complete with hidden microphones--to protect their offices while they’re out.

“An arsonist burned down our old K-9 unit (last October), and naturally we had some concern that he or she might still be running around doing his or her thing. That’s why we put on the razor blade wire,” SWAT Commander Lt. Lee Staley said.

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But Staley, and the Police Department as a whole, had their faith in fences shaken somewhat last month, when another unapprehended arsonist clambered over one into the Western Division police headquarters, torching a motor home that in turn ignited and destroyed a $40,000 communications van.

“Basically, fences just keep out honest people,” Staley said.

About 14 SWAT and K-9 administrators work during the day in two adjoining mobile homes at the Southeast compound on Federal Avenue, he said.

Staley put the value of the building at $30,000 and of its office equipment at $10,000, in addition to police files--which, he noted, “tend to be hard to replace.”

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“Just like any other business could assign a full-time security guard, we could assign an officer to stay here around the clock,” he said. “But that would not be very cost-efficient.”

Alarm System

Staley described the $2,500 Sonitrol Alarm System, installed free by Security Sales Corp.'s local franchise, as the “alarm of choice” for police officers because of its low rate of false alarms and high-quality information.

“The typical alarm just detects an intrusion, and about the only thing the company can tell you is whether it’s external or internal. This can detect motion, prying a window, breaking glass and voices. The company continues monitoring the audible monitors” to follow the action, he said.

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Gilbert Gonzales, district manager for the Security Sales Corp., said his product has the lowest false-alarm rate in the country, although he said he didn’t know the rate.

“We try to get involved in the community, and we saw a need here. They were somewhat of a sitting duck,” he said.

The microphone-based system was developed 25 years ago by a termite exterminator named Robert Baxter, Gonzales said. The company is based in Alexandria, Va.

“The ‘cry wolf’ syndrome is very significant. Since we can give more information on an intrusion, police are more likely to respond expeditiously and cautiously,” he said.

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Staley added: “We’re going to make sure our officers respond to this a lot faster than they would to other alarms.”


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