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97% of burglar alarm calls are false in Manteca

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POSTED August 13, 2013 12:58 a.m.

It seems like the ultimate safety measure. 

You pay a premium price for what you think is peace of mind when it comes to the security of your family and your home. That shiny new security system probably includes sensors for all of the doors and windows.

But it also probably includes motion sensors for the house that are so sensitive that a spider can set them off – leading to a response by local police that ties up resources and manpower.

And it can be a costly misfire.

Since 2009 the Manteca Police Department has had a policy in place that allows the city to recoup expenses incurred by sending officers out to false security alarm calls at homes and businesses. In a letter that then Manteca Police Chief Dave Bricker sent out to registered alarm users in the city (those that elicit a police response need a permit) he said that 99 percent of the calls that are responded to are false alarms.

“This number has held steady for many years and continues even today,” Bricker wrote. “Officers are most often responding to burglar alarms caused by operator error, faulty equipment, pets, store banners, cleaning crews and spiders. Only one percent of the time officers respond to a legitimate burglar alarm has a crime actually occurred.”

Things haven’t changed much since that policy went into place.

According to statistics provided by the Manteca Police Department, 97 percent of the 1,334 alarm calls that officers responded to last year were false alarms. That percentage is almost identical to the ratio of calls for the last 12 months – 1,518 false alarms in 1,549 responses. So far this year it has risen somewhat – 978 of the 997 alarm calls responded to produced no evidence of any crime being committed.

“There are a couple of things that we come across, and one of them is that officers respond to the call of an alarm and there’s nobody around to give access to what is needed to secure it,” said Manteca Police Department Sergeant Jodie Estarziau. “That’s something that we see on the majority of alarms, and that makes it difficult for the officers to do the job that they need to do.”

Estarziau said that the best thing that homeowners can do to combat burglaries is to get to know their neighbors and the people that live on their respective streets. People that are home during the day that see something that looks out of place, she said, are encouraged to contact the police department. Only they, she said, know when something is amiss in their own backyard.

While the ordinance does clearly aim to prioritize department resources, Estarziau said that strong neighborhoods and bonds with neighbors appear to be working. While the city is on track for roughly the same number of alarm calls this year, the vast majority are still false alarms and that means that people aren’t breaking into houses nearly as often as their home security systems would have you believe.

Still, keeping in line with the ordinance the department does have to make an attempt at recovering that money. That task is left to the Code Enforcement Division for filing all of the necessary paperwork and pursuing the process beyond the actual call response.

“Just having a good group of surrounding neighbors where there are eyes and ears that are out there will help us catch the burglars that are really doing this,” Estarziau said. “We get people that call us and say that something is weird and not normal for their neighbor and we come out and check it out to see what’s going on.

“Sometimes it’s legitimate, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Manteca’s policy, however, isn’t quite as strict as it is other places.

The additional steps that Bricker said were required to justify a legitimate alarm – such as an eyewitness account by either a private security firm or a neighbor or an internal video feed that shows a crime in progress – are required before the San Jose Police Department will even respond to a residential burglary alarm.

Panic, robbery, medical and duress alarms are excluded from Manteca’s policy.

Many jurisdictions besides Manteca have instituted similar polices. In every case it is the direct result of false alarms tying up limited police resources made even more critical during the Great Recession.

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