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False Burglar Alarms

NCJ Number
Rana Sampson
Date Published
May 2002
43 pages
This guide examines current police responses and presents alternative strategies to address the false alarm dilemma.
The vast majority of police alarm calls -- between 94 and 98 percent -- are false (higher in some jurisdictions). Each false alarm requires approximately 20 minutes of police time, usually for two officers; this costs the public as much as $1.5 billion per year in police time. This guide begins by reviewing the three main factors that increase the risks of false burglar alarms: faulty or inappropriately selected equipment, poor installation, and user error. For the purposes of this guide, it is assumed that the alarm industry has the responsibility to improve the quality of its equipment, properly install devices, and increase user knowledge of its product, all of which reduce false calls; therefore, this guide focuses on police policy remedies to devise a more appropriate response and stimulate the alarm industry to further improve the overall reliability of its products. One section of the guide lists questions that a police agency should address in assessing the problem of false alarms in its jurisdiction. Answers to these questions should help the agency design a more effective response strategy. Since the measurement of the effectiveness of a given response strategy is crucial for efficient policing, the guide presents some potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to false alarms. This is followed by summaries of police responses to false alarms that have proven to be most effective. They are as follows: requiring alarm companies to visually verify alarm legitimacy before calling the police; charging a fee for service for all false holdup, duress, and panic alarms; and responding to holdup, duress, and panic alarms only if they come from a stationary building. Responses with limited effectiveness include establishing a fee for service for all false alarm calls; establishing an ordinance with escalating fines for false alarms; accepting dispatch cancellation; alerting alarm companies about false alarm abusers; publishing alarm companies' false alarm rates on websites or elsewhere; holding false alarm classes; and lowering the call priority of alarms. The response specifically not recommended is to respond "priority one" to alarm calls. 16 notes, 31 references, and appended summary of responses to false burglar alarms