Will Police Respond When Your Burglar Alarm Goes Off?

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Photo by Erich Ferdinand via Flickr

Unless you plan to take on burglars and trespassers yourself, a home alarm system might not always be a worthwhile investment, according to the home security startup Deep Sentinel Labs.

The firm, which markets what it says is a more effective alternative to security alarms, released a study Wednesday claiming that for more than 40 percent of residents living in U.S. cities with populations of 50,000 or more, police will not respond or do not guarantee a response to residential alarm calls.

Basing the study on interviews with police in cities across America, the firm claimed that “most police officers believe that 95 percent of audible alarms are false.”

“As a result, many cities and/or law enforcement agencies across America are adopting policies of not responding or not guaranteeing a response to alarms,” the study added.

Deep Sentinel said it found that 78 percent of those living in cities with populations of more than one million will not receive a response, or are not guaranteed a response to alarm calls by local law enforcement.

For cities with populations between 50,000 and one million, the proportion of inhabitants where a home alarm alert will not bring a police response drops to around 30 percent.

The unsigned study said its conclusions were based on an analysis of all city and local laws and policies governing how law enforcement responds to residential home alarm calls, and were “further validated by contacting local police departments by phone.”

The startup’s analysis makes clear that it believes its own home security product, using artificial intelligence, is a more effective and reliable form of home protection because it offers “real time prediction and prevention”—a claim for which it does not offer any statistical support.

The website suggests that the product has still not been marketed to the public.

The top 10 “no-alarm response” cities of the 765 cities analyzed were San Jose, Ca.; San Francisco; Seattle; Detroit; Las Vegas, Nevada; Milwaukee; Fremont, Ca.; Modesto, Ca.; Fontana, Ca.; and Salt Lake City.

Some of the study’s assertions have been validated by earlier data. According to 2002 data from the Center for Problem Oriented Policing, police respond to over 36 million alarm activations every year, costing an estimated $1.8 billion, 95 percent of which turn out to be false alarms.

Still, the center added, “studies from both the United States and the United Kingdom have shown burglar alarms to be among the most effective burglary-deterrence measures.”

But it went on to say, “a number of other measures that do not impose a substantial burden on police are also effective at preventing burglary.

“Occupancy, or signs of occupancy, is the biggest deterrent.”

The center concluded that while burglar alarms provide a “modest” amount of security burglaries have steadily “and substantially” declined in the U.S. since the early 1980s.

“During the same time, the number of premises with alarms rose, but there is no evidence of a link between the two,” said the center. “During the 1990s through 2004, when alarm ownership experienced a steep rise, other types of crime declined just as sharply as burglary, suggesting that factors other than an increase in the number of alarm systems fueled the burglary decline.”

According to the 2002 study by the Center, some 32 million security alarms have been installed across the United States.

The Deep Sentinel analysis argued that the high number of false alarms has become a major factor in law enforcement policies governing how and when to respond to burglar arms.

Since false alarms “drain resources that would otherwise be used to address real offenses,” many police agencies around the country have “adopted policies of not responding or not guaranteeing a response to alarms,” the study said.

The complete study can be downloaded here.

This summary was prepared by TCR news intern Elena Schwartz. Readers’ comments are welcome.

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