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March 22, 2005 > Fremont Alarm Issue- A Patrol Officer's Perspective

Fremont Alarm Issue- A Patrol Officer's Perspective

There has been a great deal of press about the Fremont Police Department's response model for dealing with false burglary alarms. We will not respond to alarms unless they have been "verified" or "exempt" due to the location. I find it interesting that the media and the alarm industry have focused only on this one issue when the department has reduced so many other areas of service. We no longer have a D.A.R.E program, a Street Crimes Unit and numerous other proactive police programs. Chief Steckler was forced to reduce the police department by 24 sworn and 27 civilian positions. We have the lowest staffing ratio per capita of all cities in the United States with a population over 200,000. Now in many instances a victim must go online to in order to report an auto burglary, harassing phone calls, hit and run, theft, lost property, identify theft or vandalism.

Historically, the Fremont Police Department had a minimum number of officers on patrol. Due to budget problems, Chief Steckler was forced to reduce these numbers. So, if a patrol officer calls in sick or is injured, he or she is not replaced. We just reduce our service model to the next level. This reduction can continue until we reach "safety minimums." At that point, we only respond to Priority 1 calls for service or the most serious crimes. The fire department has closed two stations and closes other stations on a "rotating" basis. The average Fremont citizen has no idea how dramatic the reduction has been in police and fire services. So, with fewer and fewer officers on the street, something had to be done about the false alarm problem.

I hoped that the alarm issue would have caused the media and others to focus on the budget. I remember watching television last month when a reporter was speaking about a burglary at a Fremont gun shop and inferring that it occurred because of media coverage of the proposed alarm policy. The fact is - we did respond to this alarm and were there within 14 minutes of being notified. I would point out that the business owner was not in full compliance with security requirements published by Department of Justice rules for a retailer of firearms. Fortunately, this case was cleared by good police work. Officer Robyn Tippins made a car stop for a missing license plate and subsequently searched the vehicle. She then found a handgun stolen from Irvington Arms and the investigation began eventually leading to the arrests of three individuals and the recovery of 23 weapons, and the case is still under investigation.

During my 21 years as a police officer, I have never responded to a residential alarm where the suspect was still at the scene. Ten years ago, I responded to a commercial alarm where the suspect was fleeing the scene upon my arrival. That particular alarm had been "verified" prior to my arrival by listening devices the alarm company had been monitoring.

When on patrol, I am questioned about the alarm policy. I tell people they need to get a loud audible system that is located on the front and rear of their homes. Neighbors need to be able to hear the alarm. It is neighbors, not the police, who are your best bet against burglars. This was the impetus for the Neighborhood Watch Program.

National studies, and our own personal experience, show that a burglar spends on average only three minutes inside of a home. The delay in police response is simple: 1) after a set time, the alarm system sends a message to the alarm company central station, 2) the central station attempts to call the property owner and if unsuccessful they then call the police, 3) the police dispatcher enters the detail and puts it up for dispatch, and 4) the dispatcher attempts to find an available officer and dispatches the call. In reality, the burglar is gone by the time the time the officer gets the call from the dispatcher.

Is a monitored alarm system the answer to burglary prevention? No. A very loud audible system that signals your neighbors is a better solution. This is not what the alarm industry wants you to know. There are big dollars involved in monitoring alarm systems.

Some people are upset with Chief Steckler and the City Council for publicizing the alarm policy. The feeling is that burglars are now going to come to Fremont. Neither the Chief nor the Council caused this to become such a media issue. The alarm industry, and some well intentioned but na•ve citizens have publicly condemned this policy in an attempt to force the Chief and the Council to comply with the status quo. According to the alarm industry, between 20 percent and 24 percent of homes in Fremont have alarm systems. This means that between 52,000 and 58,000 residential structures are not alarmed and that approximately 80 percent of our citizens are paying for the police response to what is essentially going to be a false alarm.

Those of you with alarms should remember that an alarm system is a feel good item and a good deterrent. Given a choice a burglar will victimize a resident without an alarm since P.D. studies show that 97 percent of all residential burglaries last year were against residential structures without alarms. An alarm will not prevent you from being a victim of a burglary 100 percent of the time. If it is loud and the neighbors can hear it, the burglar will flee. If the alarm is not audible to your neighbors, then why have it in the first place?

If I were the C.E.O. of an alarm company, I would offer my clients a listening device, a web camera, private security response or some other method of "verifying" an alarm. Assuaging a client's needs is better than making them feel insecure. What I have experienced the past few months is alarm companies classifying alarms as "panic" or "robbery" rather than "burglary" so that we will continue to respond.

Chief Steckler is trying to keep his officers proactive in an effort to prevent crime, and if not successful all the time, then to apprehend and convict the criminals rather than having them shag thousands of false alarms each year. I'm thankful that Officer Tippins wasn't responding to another false alarm the night she acted proactively and made a car stop for a Vehicle Code violation.

Officer Glenn Miller,
President, Fremont Police Association

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