The case of a dog that fooled Los Angeles police into chasing a phantom burglar three times in a day underscores the police department’s long, frustrating history of battling false alarms, reports the Los Angeles Times. More than three years after taking a tough-love stance on the 110,000 bogus calls it received each year, the department is still struggling to get the upper hand: The overall number of alarms has dropped, but nearly all are still false. Obsolete computer technology and understaffing have left the department as overwhelmed as ever, failing to collect millions of dollars in fines each year from often belligerent home and business owners.
Dozens of companies serve an estimated quarter of a million homes and offices that are equipped with wired locks, secret pass codes, and panic buttons. The systems can be valuable crime deterrents, but police complain they are a tremendous drain on resources. A city ordinance imposed a two-false-alarm limit and required operators at security companies to try to contact clients on at least two phone numbers to see if an alarm should be canceled before the police are sent. It also imposed an increasingly steep scale of fines for each false alarm, starting at $115 for the first offense. By last year, the number of times police were dispatched to an alarm call had plummeted to 59,482. At least part of the decline was due to “Alarm School” –a reeducation camp for people with a track record of false alarms. Akin to traffic school — and equally boring — the two-hour classes are offered periodically at night and on weekends. In exchange for sitting through PowerPoint presentations and a melodramatic video about how to avoid false alarms, alarm owners can have their fines reduced.