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Cost-Cutting Cops Seek To Avoid False Alarms

LAPD may revise policy on security calls

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Nearly 3,000 times a week, somewhere in the City of Angels, a burglar alarm trips, and the security firm monitoring it contacts authorities. Within minutes, a police dispatcher broadcasts a "Code 30" or one of its variants - alerting officers to respond to what is almost certainly nothing at all.

As security systems proliferate in homes and businesses, false alarms are emerging as a costly nuisance for law-enforcement officers here and across the United States.

In Los Angeles, between 95 and 98 percent of some 150,000 alarm calls a year are false - a number that is prompting officials to consider changing how police respond to security alarms.

Although a new plan is "strictly at the proposal stage," the L.A. Police Department may adopt an alarm-response scheme similar to one in Las Vegas, says Lt. Charlie Beck. There, in a cost-cutting measure, police no longer send a patrol car to the scene of an alarm unless they verify that officers are actually needed.

Alarms "might go off if someone doesn't set them right or trips them by mistake," grouses one veteran LAPD officer who asked not to be identified. "They go off if it rains, if it's too dry, if the building settles, if there's an earthquake." Like many streetwise officers, he has come to consider most alarm calls as only one step higher on the priority scale "than a car blocking a driveway."

His superiors agree, but perhaps more tactfully. "Anybody who works a [police car] will tell you that they'll end up going to alarm calls they absolutely feel are false," says Lieutenant Beck, who is investigating the false-alarm situation for the LAPD. The difficulty for the department, Beck notes, is that "our resources are finite.... It's not like we can arbitrarily hire more people."

Indeed, the manpower drain costs the LAPD roughly the equivalent of a small patrol division - 41 statistical robocops working 24 hours a day, 365 days a year - just to determine that no crime of any kind has occurred, says Beck.

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