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False Alarms: Cause for Alarm

NCJ Number
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin Volume: 63 Issue: 11 Dated: (November 1994) Pages: 1-5
J J Moslow
Date Published
5 pages
Police officers respond to about 13.7 million emergency alarm calls each year nationwide, but 98 percent of these calls are unnecessary for one reason or another and pose a serious threat to police department effectiveness and community safety.
Property crime levels have increased, and a direct result has been an explosion in the number of monitored alarm systems. Projections indicate that, by the end of 1995, police departments will be responding to 40 million emergency alarm calls. Unless communities take action to control the number of false alarms, police officers may find themselves devoting much of their time responding to false alarm calls, or in effect working for private security companies. The larger threat, however, is to citizens who have become extremely fearful of crime. To address the false alarm problem, many municipalities have enacted false alarm ordinances. For example, Amherst, New York, implemented an avoidable alarm ordinance in 1993. The police department designed an integrated an alarm notification and billing program into its existing computer-aided dispatch and records management system. Between April and December 1993, the ordinance generated nearly $19,000 in fines. More importantly, the ordinance reduced the number of false alarms. In Winnipeg, Ontario, Canada, residences and businesses must submit alarm permit applications to the police department before installing new alarm systems. Nassau County, New York, has proposed an automatic alarm permit system to target alarm abusers. Further, some municipalities require some form of verification prior to responding to alarm calls. Any proposed alarm legislation should be well thought out and researched to ensure an effective and equitable approach. A key element in such legislation involves defining an avoidable alarm. Community education and support are also essential in dealing with the false alarm problem. 8 endnotes and 3 photographs