Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

False Alarm? Oh, Send the Cops Anyway

Tuesday's The Spokesman-Review ran two page A1 articles that need to be read as companion pieces.

The first article was by staff writer Tom Clouse and was headlined Tax hike for police tough sell in Spokane. The article's lead was that a citizen named Rick Eckel personally observed his pickup being broken into, so he called 911 on his cell phone and was begging the police to respond while he confronted the thief. The Spokane Police Department never responded because according to the Department, it had no available officers to send. Not enough money to hire enough officers to send on all calls for service, you see.

Jump to the next article by staff writer Jonathan Brunt. It's headline was Deputies in doghouse after chase. In this story, Spokane Police Department officers investigating a "false (burglar) alarm" at an unoccupied restaurant joined into what was later determined to be a fictitious unlawful pursuit by some Spokane County Deputy Sheriffs who had too much time on their hands.

What is the obvious inconsistency in the Spokane Police Department's responses? In the first story, Spokane police officers were unavailable to respond to a citizen observing and intervening in a crime in progress where the potential for violence was real. In the second story, Spokane police officers were available to be dispatched to investigate a "false (burglar) alarm" at an unoccupied business, Anthony's Restaurant, a site favored by Spokane Mayor Jim West.

It's reasonable for taxpayers to ask whether police should be dispatched to investigate unverified intrusion alarms. Answering "yes" to that question is increasingly difficult to defend since it amounts to using tax dollars to provide a differential and preferential level of police service to persons or businesses with the money to invest in intrusion detection systems and monitoring contracts. This becomes a larger issue when citizens personally observing a crime in progress are unable to get the police to respond. The answer is "no", the police should not respond to unverified burglar alarm calls.

The Los Angeles Police Commission has adopted a reasonable definition of a verified burglar alarm. It is "...an alarm activation where an unauthorized entry or attempted unauthorized entry upon the premises, building, or structure protected by the system has been independently verified. Verification shall be accomplished by confirmation by the alarm system user or other person at or near the scene of the activation, a private guard responder, or alarm company operator. Verification shall be based on personal observation or inspection of the premises, or by remote visual inspection of the premises. NOTE: An open door, broken window, or other activity consistent with a burglary is considered a verified activation."

The Los Angeles Police Commission has backed Chief of Police Bill Bratton's request to take a tougher position on false alarms, a position strongly opposed by the Los Angeles burglar alarm industry and national counterparts. But Bratton's position was well-founded. As of January 2004, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) was dispatching nearly 136,000 burglar alarm calls per year. Those responses amounted to approximately 15 percent of the LAPD patrol's workload. More important, approximately 92 percent of the calls were false.

The US Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, has published a problem oriented guide for police entitled False Burglar Alarms by Rana Sampson. The guide was prepared to help police address the false alarm problem. It is scheduled to be updated in late 2005.

Though law enforcement agencies have acknowledged the costly problem of false burglar alarms, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the vendors of burglar alarm equipment and monitoring contracts are dragging their feet at correcting the problem. The electronic security industry very much wants police response, even unnecessary police response, to continue. The industry's reason has more to do with marketing than public safety: If the electronic security industry can make potential customers believe that they will get a faster police response than citizens who do not have alarms, the industry will sell more alarms and monitoring contracts. For an example of this type of marketing, see the handout entitled Q&A - False Alarms, by the National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA).


Blogger tsykoduk said...

Good article!

I personally think that Spokane City is mis-spending funds. The police and Fire should be the last thing to be cut - not one of the first.

10:53 AM, October 12, 2005  
Blogger obidavekenobi said...

Okay, I gotta’ chime-in on this…I’ll post both on Tsykoduk and Whitecaps’ blogs.

The “felony” described in this post is not a felony in Washington; it’s a misdemeanor. “Vehicle Prowling in the Second Degree.”

Any building being entered is automatically a felony whether it is 1st or 2nd Degree Burglary, or Residential Burglary.

Spokane Police Officers (line guys, like me) have always been disgusted by the amount of false alarms to which we are REQUIRED BY POLICY to respond. It is a phenomenal waste of our dwindling resources that are paid for by the citizens (again, like me). In my 12-year-career I have been to ONE good in-progress alarm. The rest have been false, or we were too late (resources, again) to do anything about it besides take a report and try to track the bad guys down later.

Something that always needs to be considered when police are unable to respond in a timely manner is this: how many officers did we have on duty at that time, and to what other priorities were those officers responding? There are days that we can’t respond to Vehicle Prowling in progress, and there are days we can respond to noise complaints…it all depends on calls for service and staffing. You cannot expect any agency to be able to do more with less, despite what the politicians say is possible.

It is absolutely accurate to state that the false alarm stuff basically boils-down to a lobby by alarm companies. Again, we line guys are disgusted that policing in this country is led by liability and justice goes only to those who can afford it…

…but please be careful when condemning “the police.” 90% of the people I work with are good people who work hard and do what’s right. Please also remember that it is not we guys in the trenches who set policy; that’s up to our Chiefs, and we have little or nothing to say about it.

As a side note, I agree with much of what was posted in Whitecaps’ previous article about DV. The law should be applied to all people, regardless of occupation (etc), or it means nothing. I feel badly for the Deputy who was arrested, worse for the victim of his offense, and also feel the whole ordeal myself because (as the articles and public outcry prove) it puts a black eye on the rest of us who wear our badge with honor.

3:49 PM, October 12, 2005  
Blogger Bill McCrory said...


You are correct that vehicle prowling is a gross misdemeanor under the RCW. Thank you.

Bill McCrory

5:26 PM, October 12, 2005  

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