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New alarm policy has people abuzz

Alarm companies upset about the lack of response

SHARE New alarm policy has people abuzz

WEST VALLEY CITY — In the early morning hours of July 19, Mikel Boley received a call from his alarm company that a motion detector was going off in his West Valley office.

Because city police no longer respond to that type of alarm, he was forced to check it out for himself. When he got there, he saw that his front window had been smashed. Then Boley realized the intruder was still in the building. The next thing he knew, he was standing face-to-face with the man.

"I was scared," Boley said. "At one point I thought he was reaching for a weapon."

The suspect eventually was caught by police. But Boley still has terrible feelings about that night.

"I'm still in a little bit of shock. It doesn't make sense. I know they've (police) had a lot of alarms and I know they made this decision from an economic standpoint, but it's dangerous. I'm convinced he would have clubbed me if I hadn't seen him," Boley said.

Since April, West Valley Police have stopped responding to some business alarms. The decision came after police responded to a staggering 8,090 alarm calls in 1999. Only 118 of those calls required a police report. West Valley officials said more than 2,700 man-hours and $481,000 were wasted on false alarms that year.

"We do respond to alarms, but there's a certain criteria," said Lt. Lance Call. "There has to be some belief the alarm is legit. We are no longer responding to automatic dialing systems. There has to be some human involved."

That means, Call said, if someone can verify to police there is a problem, then officers will respond immediately. He said the city tried the idea of penalizing companies for false alarms, but the workload it created made it cost-prohibitive.

Boley has written a letter to West Valley Mayor Gerald Wright asking that the city reconsider the new policy.

In Salt Lake City, the City Council tentatively decided Thursday to end the practice in favor of responding only if a non-police responder reports a problem first. It will hold a public hearing on the matter in September.

Salt Lake Police calculate that 99 percent of alarm notifiers are false alarms, tripped unknowingly by homeowners or friends. Nevertheless, police have been responding to all of them, wasting an estimated $500,000 and the time equivalent of six full-time officers.

Mac Connole, who has been serving as acting police chief, said the initiative will make for more efficiency without compromising safety. "It will reduce our calls for service greatly."

Various companies offer to respond to alarms instead of police, and if they find a problem they call the authorities. Connole said in such cases police would respond immediately, compared to the up-to-four-hour wait that is the norm now because of the heavy load.

An attorney for companies that install the alarms told the council Thursday he would like more time to examine the proposal, but it appears to have strong support on the council.

"We may be providing extraordinary services to citizens," Councilman Keith Christensen said in an interview.

Christensen said he has concerns, however, about putting dollars before the safety of people.

"To suggest that police won't respond is confusing to me," Christensen said.

He believes the number of people with alarm systems is up, but the number of false alarms is the same. In terms of percentage, Christensen believes the problem is getting better. The city council is not expected to make a final vote on the proposal until September.

Cpt. Keith Teuscher said Friday that Provo business owners only have two chances in three months for mistakes. After that, the Provo police department charges $50 each time officers are required to respond.

"Right now we try to do all we can for the business alarms, but it's a drain on us," Teuscher said. "It's particularly discouraging when they're all false."

Teuscher said most false alarms are caused by carelessness, and charging companies has significantly reduced employee error in the past five years. "We do that just to hopefully get the attention of the business owners so they'll be a little more careful."

Teuscher said, however, that he could foresee Provo moving in the same direction as West Valley in the future. "Everyone's getting an alarm; that's a significant demand on our man power. People don't realize what a strain it puts on us to respond."

Alarm companies said they're concerned about the West Valley policy and the possibility that other cities may follow suit. J.D. Keller, general manager of ADT Security, said an alarm board has been formed by several security companies around the valley to fight Salt Lake's proposal.

"We'd much rather have police out there," Keller said.

Many companies, according to Keller, including ADT, are hiring their own security guards to respond to alarms in West Valley. But other companies, he said, are telling customers to fend for themselves.

Teresa McCall with Protection One security agreed. "We'll always want the police, but we'll do what we can to help the customer."

Some companies are installing microphones along with their motion detectors. Call said officers would respond to businesses or residences where a dispatcher can hear something out of the ordinary occurring.

Contributing: Angie Welling and Alan Edwards

E-MAIL: preavy@desnews.com