The high cost of false alarms

By Pamela Singleton, Sonitrol Pacific Director of Communications
Posted August 20, 2009

According to a “Police” magazine article, between 10 and 20 percent of all calls to law enforcement agencies come from burglar alarm companies and as many as 99 percent of these calls turn out to be false alarms. This is an expensive drain of scarce police resources.

The Sonitrol Pacific team is always looking to improve what we do in order to reduce false alarms. We design, install, service and monitor our systems with the goal of fewer false alarms. And, if we do cause a false alarm for a client, we pay the fee.

Unfortunately, rarely do our security consultants encounter sales people from traditional burglar alarms companies who discuss with prospects their plan for false alarms. This has very real consequences for the entire community, not just the people who have the alarms installed.

Costs to the community:
Lost police manpower: generally two officers are sent to respond to a call and estimated costs for this runs into the billions of dollars; Chicago Police estimate the hours spent on responding to false alarms annually equates to 195 full time officers
Mis-allocation of police resources: officers responding to false burglar alarms are unavailable to respond to genuine needs
Wear on vehicles
Noise pollution: neighbors are subjected to the wail of a siren, often prompting them to call 911 and exacerbating the impact of the false alarm
Personnel costs dispatchers
Software, hardware, office space, and equipment costs for false alarm management
administrative and staff costs of notifications, permitting, billing, and education programs
costs of developing, printing and distributing publications to educate the public and alarm companies about false alarms

Costs to people with burglar alarms:
-Fines and suspension of police response
-Possibly paying monthly monitoring fees for a security system that doesn’t meet “Verification” or “Enhanced Call” ordinances

A few of the fines in the Pacific Northwest:

Tacoma/Pierce County
All false burglar alarms – $100 fee
All false panic alarms – $200 fee
“Enhanced Call” verification policy in place.

Seattle Police Department
All false burglar alarms – $90 fee
“Enhanced Call” verification policy in place.

Portland Police Bureau lists these false alarm fees (per permit year)
First false alarm – no charge
Second false alarm – $50 fee
Third false alarm – $100 fee
Fourth false alarm – $150 fee
Five or more false alarms – Suspension of services may occur unless customer requests continued service and agrees to pay a $150 fee for each police response.
Failure to pay false alarm fees may result in suspension of police service and a $25 late charge for any fee/fine that is not paid within 30 days of the invoice date.

Boise Police false burglar alarm fees

Fine schedule per calendar year
First false alarm – no charge
Second fasle alarm – $50
Third false alarm – $75
Fourth false alarm – $100
Fifth and subsequent false alarms – $200
Allow two free responses for schools.
“Enhanced Call Policy”
* Require alarm monitoring companies to use “Enhanced Call Verification”
* Require all new alarm installation to meet Security Industry Association standards.
* Require alarm installers to review with alarm users a False Alarm Prevention Checklist.
* Prohibit single-action non-recessed panic/duress activators and entry/exit delays of less than 45 seconds.

If you have a Sonitrol Pacific system, work with your Customer Service Representative to fight back against false alarms. If you have another burglar alarm installed in your facility, educate yourself on your local ordinance and hold your security provider accountable to meeting requirements and servicing their equipment to avoid false activations.