Security Alarm False Alarms

March 20, 2009 12:25:50 AM PDT
The security alarms that protect homes and businesses across the Valley are also expensive for every single taxpayer. Electronic security systems make a lot of people feel safer, but they can also be a big drain on public resources.Police caught the teenager who broke this window at Fresno's Lawless Elementary this month because of a burglar alarm. Fresno Unified School District security alarms have helped police catch young burglars at least four times over the last year. They're comforting to have in your home as well. Installing them gets you a discount on your insurance, and the peace of mind of knowing someone's monitoring your safety, ready to sound the alarm when you need help. "We don't call 911," said David Shea of Elite Security Systems. "We call who 911 calls, so we go right over them and go to the dispatcher."

But many times, electronic security systems are more costly than just the monthly fee you're paying. False alarms are more common than you might think, and in most valley cities, homeowners have to pay a fine when they accidentally call police more than once. It happened to Corina Rilatos last year and the city of Fresno fined her $115. "I believe my husband just came in," she said. "He left his keys at the hospital when I was there having my son the alarm went off. I missed the call. He missed the call. So they automatically sent out the police."

Police say more than 95% of the security alarm calls they get are false alarms. So, 19 out of every 20 times, they're responding to nothing. Well, not quite nothing. A lot of times they're responding to something as simple as a helium balloon running out of air and tripping a motion sensor. The manager at the Manchester Mall Sears says it happened to him. The Manchester Sears called out eight false alarms in two months. An Old Navy on Shaw and Brawley in Northwest Fresno made the same number of unfounded calls. And our research found a pre-school was the worst offender during that two month period. The Franklin EOC Head Start in Southwest Fresno had 11 false alarms. They have been hit by burglars and believe an alarm is a necessity.

No industry seems immune from making false alarm calls. It's happened at businesses, the post office, and even at Fresno Unified schools, where security alarms have proven to be valuable in recent burglaries. "Oftentimes, kids that are out skateboarding outside of the schools cause enough noise to set an alarm off which will cause an officer to have to go out and investigate," said deputy Fresno police chief Robert Nevarez.

The pastor at the 7th Day Adventist church in Central Fresno says stray cats and lightning strikes have tripped their motion sensors. The Action News Crimetracker mapped out all the false alarms over two months in Merced County, Hanford, Clovis, Fresno, Visalia and Tulare County. The red dots marking false alarms basically covered the entire Valley ? almost 3,000 false alarms in two months. And they're expensive. Fresno Police estimate officers spend 11,000 hours a year on false alarms in Fresno alone. That's the equivalent of six officers dedicated full-time to false alarms, possibly leaving parts of the city unprotected. "If two officers get tied up handling a false alarm, there are ample life threatening or property crimes in progress they could be responding to instead of handling the false alarm," said deputy chief Nevarez.

Here's a possible example: In July 2008, officers chased a car through Fresno after a carjacking. During the chase, five false alarms went off, sending as many as ten officers on wild goose chases. Two of the false alarms were less than three miles from the chase. But Nevarez says alarm systems are useful. In fact, he has one himself. And local alarm companies are usually eager to help you correct the system. "Because if [the alarms are] going off all the time, they're not going to want it," said Shea, of Elite Security System. "And I don't blame them." They can help you fine tune your security system so it doesn't go off for something innocent, like a dog running around the house. That way, they can protect you like a hawk, without crying wolf.

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