New Plan on Alarms Introduced : Security: Councilwoman’s proposal calls for firms to verify need for police. It is latest bid to reduce false alerts and has industry’s backing.
Hoping to end months of debate over how to reduce the number of false-alarm calls to police, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Laura Chick proposed a measure Tuesday that has the backing of the security alarm industry.
Under Chick’s proposal, alarm companies would try to call the owners of automated residential and commercial alarm systems by telephone to verify the need for a police response after an alarm is triggered.
If a building occupant confirmed that the alarm was triggered accidentally, the alarm company would tell police to ignore the call. But if the company could not verify whether the call was genuine, police would be dispatched.
It is the latest effort to cut down on the thousands of false-alarm calls that police say take valuable time away from real emergencies, and also the most recent episode in a long, sometimes complex debate.
Last month, a complaint by an alarm company, which was not identified, to the Los Angeles Police Department triggered an internal investigation into allegations that officers supplied the City Council with bogus information, exaggerating the number of false burglar alarms to ensure the passage of a tough ordinance.
There is no word yet on whether the investigation has uncovered any wrongdoing.
Chick offered her measure as a compromise to an ordinance proposed several weeks ago by Councilman Marvin Braude, which drew howls of protest from alarm industry representatives.
Under Braude’s measure, police would not respond to any alarm calls until a break-in was verified by an occupant or the alarm company, either by a security guard or video surveillance cameras.
Whereas Chick’s measure would withhold police response to alarm calls proven to be false, Braude’s proposal would halt all police responses until alarm firms verified that the calls were genuine.
Police backed Braude’s proposal, but alarm company representatives said the cost of adding security guards or surveillance cameras would make owning an alarm system too expensive for many residents and business owners. The average monthly fee for a residential system, they said, could jump from $25 to about $55.
Vince Nigro, president of the Los Angeles Burglar and Fire Alarm Assn., commended Chick’s proposal as “a very good starting point” that would not increase the cost of owning an alarm system.
Nonetheless, the City Council voted to send it to the council’s Public Safety Committee for further study, which angered Chick. “This is about public safety,” she said. “This is supposed to be our No. 1 declared priority.”
Under Chick’s measure, alarm-system owners would be fined $80 for each false alarm after the third call within a 12-month period. Police currently impose the fine after the fourth call.
According to a police report, 95% of the 161,000 alarm calls made last year were false, accounting for 18% of all calls for police service and costing the city $2.8 million in lost police time.
Chick’s proposal would also make it a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and one year in jail, to fail to register a residential or commercial burglar alarm with police. There are about 300,000 such systems in Los Angeles now, but only about 100,000 are registered.