Education key to reducing false alarms

By Ed Brock

Willard Pederson of Jonesboro was once a little too popular with Clayton County police.

In a short period of time his home security system sent out six false alarms, a problem that could have resulted in his being fined.

The first three false alarms in a year are free, but the next three cost $25 each and after that the cost goes up to $50 each.

"I talked my way out of all of them. I was up against the wall," 81-year-old Pederson said. "They'd come around and say oh, it's you again."

Pederson had his entire system replaced and that solved the problem, but Clayton County police say there are still far too many.

The number of alarm calls went down 3.3 percent between 2002 and 2003, from 17,619 to 17,045. Clayton County Police Chief Darrell Partain said those calls in 2003 took up 4,261.25 man hours in response time.

That's about 15 minutes a call for going to the scene and determining if the call was legitimate or not, and a large majority of them turn out to be false. That's about 59.1 hours a year per shift spent in what Partain calls downtime for his officers.

Education is one solution, Clayton County Police Capt. Jeff Turner said. That's part of the approach Alarm Associates of College Park takes with its customers, owner Tom Johnson said.

"The biggest thing we do is give them good training on the front end," Johnson said.

That means making sure they know all the right codes and procedures. But Johnson said he doesn't leave it at that.

"Anybody whose had an alarm that was dispatched, we're calling them and trying to find out what in the world is the problem," Johnson said. "That seems to make the biggest dent in false alarms."

Some responsibility lies on the company as well, Johnson said. It's important not to over-design the system.

"I could design you a system where you couldn't move in your own home," Johnson said. "That's a bad system."

Another problem comes from nervous convenience store clerks who hit the alarm button any time a suspicious person comes in the store. That can create a kind of "cry wolf" situation, causing the officer to have a somewhat lackadaisical attitude when responding to calls from that location.

And that can put the officer in harm's way, Turner said. He recalled an incident in which an officer from another agency was responding to yet another alarm call from a certain location. He was expecting another false alarm.

"He walked in and a bullet whizzed by his head," Turner said.