False Alarms Plague Police Department
By Larry O'Conner – Staff Writer
January 2, 2004
While warnings make Chicken Little seem more reliable at times, the prevalence of business and home security systems continue to keep police and thieves on their toes.
As of December, Jackson police responded to 1,295 alarms. But only 29 of those – or 2 percent – turned out to be a burglary, theft or vandalism case.
The remainder are false alarms, where human error is involved, or simply unknown due to technical glitches.
Despite the disparity, those numbers are expected to drop as technological advancements make security systems more efficient, security experts say. Meanwhile those calls are treated as break-ins in progress, which means two patrol units are sent as officers prepare for a potential encounter with a burglar.
The sense of relief, if not adrenaline deflation, is palpable for patrol officers, who might respond to a half-dozen alarm calls a week, a department spokesman said.
“With an alarm, because we get so many of them, you have to fight the urge to become complacent and you have to treat it as a break-in in progress,” said Lt. John Holda, Jackson Police Department.
While the mere percussion of a rumbling thunderstorm have set off a symphony of alarms, motion detectors have actually improved, Holda said. The president and CEO of Jackson-based Comtronics agreed.
“Back in the old days, a spider might have set it off,” said John A. Campau of Comtronics, whose company has 6,000 customers in eight states. About 1,000 of those with Comtronics systems are banks. “Now you have the ability to set the sensitivity of motion detectors up or down.”
“It’s a fun business to be in. The equipment is 10 times better than 15 years ago.”
To curb the frequency of false calls, security companies like Comtronics are more involved in teaching customers how to operate alarm systems.
Companies are also taking advantage of technological advances such as motion detectors that trigger live video feeds, which are transmitted to the alarm company to confirm a break-in.
Pan, tilt and zoom cameras not only allow the capture of an intruders’s likeness, but also vehicle license plates.
Software upgrades have enabled security companies to pinpoint and monitor where frequent alarm signals are occurring so they can be repaired.
Comtronics recently spent $500,000 for enhanced monitoring software, partly to serve its banking clients.
“They have very little tolerance for false alarms,” Campau said.
City and townships allow for occasional human error. However, business and home owners are fined for continual false alarms.
In Jackson, three or more false calls in one year results in a $25 charge. The penalty goes up to $50 if the number goes beyond six.
Warning letters are sent before fines kick in, Holda said.
Reprinted with permission from The Jackson Citizen Patriot
Copyright January 2004