Silencing False Alarms

Strategic Security

Flickr photo by Paul Sableman​​​

Silencing False Alarms

​Organized retail crime boosters strike retail stores during their open hours, and most retailers rely on burglar alarms to keep thieves out when their doors are closed. But there’s another side to this level of security: false alarms that stretch police officers’ resources thin.

Most police departments name alarm alerts as one of their top three calls, and the vast majority of them are false alarms, says Glen Mowrey, national law enforcement liaison for the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC). In most states, officers have to respond to the automated alarm alerts sent by the services so popular with residential and retail spaces alike. Mowrey, himself a retired deputy police chief of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina, Police Department, understood the strain this could place on dispatchers and police officers.

 While Mowrey was leading a security alarm seminar in Nashville, Tennessee, he discussed the high numbers of false alarms with local officers and people in the alarm industry. An informal roundtable took place, and the concept of alarm management committees was formed: three police chiefs, three alarm industry representatives, and a member of the SIAC would meet quarterly in their state to figure out ways to cut down on false alarm calls.

An alarm management committee launched in Tennessee, and Mowrey helped start up committees in Georgia and Florida soon after. Today, there are 15 alarm management committees in the United States, and the number is growing. Committees typically focus on creating model alarm ordinances as well as pushing for state legislation. Agencies using the model ordinance have realized reductions of up to​ 70 percent. 

Mowrey says that most alarm management committees look to develop and enforce model ordinances in their communities, which consist of proven best practices, such as requiring residents and businesses to register their alarm services with their local police department. It also creates penalties for repeat offenders: the first two false alarms carry no consequence, while subsequent alarms will result in increasing fees. 

“Those fines get people’s attention,” Mowrey says.

Such alarm ordinances have resulted in drastic red​uctions of false alarm calls as citizens and businesses alike understand their responsibility to keep their alarm systems working properly. For example, in Fairfax County, Virginia, the robust alarm ordinance was enacted in 2002, and in 2014 resulted in the 112,000 sites registered with the police, and 90 percent of those registrants never had a false alarm, Mowrey notes. 

Alarm management committees also focus on legislation in their perspective states, often focusing on enhanced two-call verification laws. This requires alarm companies to reach out twice to the owner of the site whose alarm was triggered before sending police officers to check on the residence or business. This method has been proven to drop police response to false alarms drastically—in some cases, by 30 percent, Mowrey notes. A number of states have adopted two-call verification laws. 

“It’s efficiency,” Mowrey says. “It’s cutting down calls coming into the communication center when people take responsibility of their alarms. Roughly 90 percent of false alarms are caused by human error. People just don’t pay attention, and it’s needless work for police.”