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Community safety, burglar alarms, and 911

Posted by Rona Fischman  September 18, 2012 02:00 PM

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False burglar alarms are a huge problem for police departments. Home security systems are often set to contact the police. This is an emergency call that the police must respond to. However, the vast majority are false alarms. The report reads:

In the United States in 2002, police responded to approximately 36 million alarm activations, at an estimated annual cost of $1.8 billion. Most of these activations were burglar alarms … The vast majority of alarm calls—between 94 and 98 percent (higher in some jurisdictions)—are false. In other words, alarms’ reliability, which can be measured by these rates of false activations, is generally between 2 and 6 percent. Nationwide, false alarms account for somewhere between 10 and 25 percent of all calls to police.

Because owners of the alarms expect a police response, the police are on the hook to respond, even though most of the calls are not emergencies. When you were house hunting, did you consider an alarm a plus? When you bought, did you consider adding one?

Here’s what that same report says:

Studies from both the United States and the United Kingdom have shown burglar alarms to be among the most effective burglary-deterrence measures. However, 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. In addition, closed-circuit television, window bars, barking dogs, nosy neighbors, and motion activated lights have also been shown to be effective. For the most part, burglars avoid alarmed premises because easier choices are usually available. Given the availability of non-alarmed premises and similarly unprotected targets (such as houses with open garage doors or windows), burglars may be deterred by the mere presence of an alarm company’s window sticker or yard sign. Do burglar alarms account for burglary declines in the United States? The U.S. burglary rate has declined steadily and substantially 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. 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.

Does this information encourage you to get an alarm system, or just make you appreciate your nosy neighbors and barking dogs because they protect your house from burglars?

As an aside, a while back, someone commented here that people use fake cameras. This is the kind of tactic as using an alarm company yard sign or sticker. My sense is that it deters amateurs (mostly young criminals) and not professional thieves. What do you think?

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About boston real estate now
Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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