Ringing Without Reason: False Alarms Reduced 17 Percent

Policy limits alarm owners to seven false alarms annually
Gilroy – In three years, the Gilroy Police Department has reduced the number of false burglary alarms officers respond to by about 17 percent, saving the city valuable response time.

A few years back GPD conducted a study and discovered that more than 90 percent of burglary alarms turned out to be false. Closer examination revealed that a number of residences and businesses had several false alarms and were wasting community resources.

“What it really did for us was it took us away from time when we could be productive,” said Gilroy Sgt. Kurt Svardal. You can calculate the cost of man hours wasted and mileage, but really, “the cost to the community was priceless … It costs us money to go to these calls for service. We have 45,000 people in town we have to take care of.”

More than 2,000 businesses and residences have private alarm systems. Current policy limits each alarm owner to seven false alarms annually before being placed on the no response list, where despite an active alarm, police officers do not go to the house or business.

As of February, there were 60 businesses and residences on the do not respond list.

Two officers and two cars are sent to each alarm, and after the first false alarm, financial penalties are accrued ranging from $50 to $150 for each additional time police respond to a false burglary alarm.

“There’s nothing that says you have to go, but generally, part of the expectation (of community members) is we’re going to go,” Svardal said.

Monica Souza, a crime analyst for GPD, estimated that there were about 1,200 burglary alarms in town in 2001. That figure has jumped 80 percent to more than 2,000 in 2005. But despite residential and commercial growth, the number of times police are responding to false alarms has been reduced.

After the first false alarm, Souza sends a courtesy letter alerting the resident or business owner. She continues to send letters asking individuals to become familiar with the city’s false alarm code if officers continue to be dispatched to false alarms at the same address.

Unless business owners and residents pay a fine or contact police to alert them that they are working on fixing any mechanical failures, they will remain on the no response list.

“We use a little bit of discretion,” Svardal said, explaining that if individuals have made an effort to get their alarms under control, police will continue to respond to them.

Police started communicating with management at the Gilroy Premium Outlets and schools in Gilroy Unified School District to reduce the number of false alarms police were responding to at those locations.

“We know when the schools open. We know when the outlets open,” Svardal explained. If an alarm goes off during school or business hours police may not respond without additional information.

But at private homes, this is not always the case.

Rod Cordell’s home on Johnson Way has been burglarized twice this past year, so when his alarm company called and said the alarm had been activated, he asked that they call police while he rushed home from work.

Within three minutes police were on the scene and found the residence secure.

“It was a false alarm,” Cordell said.

His daughter didn’t latch the door properly before leaving and his three dogs pushed it open, which triggered the alarm.

Though he rushed home from work for what turned out to be nothing, Cordell was relieved to learn that there was a response from police.

“I feel better about (having an alarm),” he said. “At least I know that if something happens, (the alarm company will) call me. And I make the decision of whether or not to call the police. I’m ready now.”

Most private alarms operate by positioning a sensor at each point of entry at a door or window in a house or business. Alarms may be customized with motion detectors and set to trigger by the sound of breaking glass, explained Amy Hewett, a representative for A-A Lock and Alarm in Morgan Hill.

The length of time needed to shut off the device before an alarm actually sounds is programmed by the owner. In the past, pets could trigger motion detectors. However, newer systems recognize animal shapes.

“If you set up yours right, false alarms are really rare,” Hewett said.

Despite the false alarms, police still recommend businesses and residences invest in one.

“Alarms are great, if maintained properly,” Svardal said. “If glass breaks, as soon as (intruders) hear it, they realize the clock is ticking.”

Alarm stats

• In 2002, Gilroy police responded to 1,400 false alarms.

• From January to Nov. 7, police have responded to 970 false alarms.

• As of February, there were 2,000 homes and businesses with private alarms.

• Reasons for false alarms:

• At businesses, new employees may not know how to use system.

• At homes, individuals may be unfamiliar with system and not know how to turn them off, or not understand how to properly lock up before leaving.

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