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False alarm program aims to save Sudbury police resources

Of the alarm calls resulting in police arriving on scene, 95% were false alarms said report to the police board
police-alarms
Police report that 95 per cent of alarms police responded to, were found to be false alarms. (Len Gillis/Sudbury.com)

A recommendation aimed at cutting down the number of false security alarm calls responded to by Sudbury police was approved by the Greater Sudbury Police Services Board on Nov. 23.

The new program would phase out the current bylaw on false alarms at homes and businesses, which was established in 2002, and establish a new “verified response program.”

Alarm companies would be required to verify criminal activity rather than use police as a third party to confirm or determine if an alarm is false.

A report to the police services board said the current bylaw was established 20 years ago due to the large number of false alarms “that had been identified as consuming a significant amount of police resources which could be better directed to enhancing the police presence in the community.”

For example, in the year 2000, police responded to more than 6,000 false alarms. The 2002 bylaw provided for an alarm registration system for a fee and the charging of fees for police response to false alarms. 

From time to time, the board reviewed the fees, and made adjustments to be more in line with police industry norms. The service also regularly reviewed alarm calls for service.

At the present time, the Service has 9,642 alarms registered in the active data base.

For the years 2017 to 2021, the service has averaged 3,756 alarm calls for service annually. These calls are dispatched and at times cancelled prior to officer arrival.

Of the calls that resulted in actual police arrival (1,680 per year), 95 per cent were determined to be false alarms.

Intrusion alarm calls accounted for seven per cent of GSPS’ total calls for service in 2021.

In 2021, the average time from dispatch to clearance of one patrol unit was determined to be 46 minutes; 92 minutes of officer time is expended per false alarm (two officers are dispatched to each of these calls for their safety).

The report said this equates to 1,122 officer hours at a cost of close to $75,000 per year ((based on 2021 stats) of police resources engaged “in this non-productive time, a time better deployed to address legitimate response to criminal activity and other community service requirements.

In addition, there are indirect costs associated with false alarms including the communication staff and call takers, salaries associated with the alarm co-ordinator and finance personnel in managing and processing of the false alarm program as well as operating costs including fuel and police vehicles.

During 2021, Greater Sudbury Police Service collected $27,004 in false alarm fees, and $46,434 in registration fees, which cover a three-year registration period.

”While the intent of the Board’s False Alarm By-law was to reduce the number of police response to false alarms, the imposition of fees causes some deterrence and provides for some cost recovery to police, the overall number of alarm calls that police are responding to remains significantly high in the context of overall calls for service, to which the majority of the calls are false alarms,” said the report.

Greater Sudbury Police have been examining other models with a view to what other police services are doing, and one that is popular is the Verified Alarm Response Program (VARP). 

As stated above, a verified response program requires that the alarm company verify criminal activity rather than use police as a third party to confirm or determine if an alarm is false. 

Through this partnership, police will then respond to alarms only when certain criteria have been met, such as audio or video systems, or the homeowner, confirming criminal activity, or the alarm being triggered by multiple activation points.

The target date for the implementation of the system is January of 2023, with a trial implementation period of one year, with a full review after six months and one year.

The report said that some alarm companies are pushing back disagreeing with the introduction of the VARP. 

“Our review with other police services who have implemented the VARP has been positive and led to improved police service delivery to bonafide calls for service,” the report added. ”It is important to note that police are fully committed to responding to alarm calls for service once the alarm has been verified.”

During the Nov. 23 meeting, GSPS police services board member Fran Calderelli asked how well other Ontario police services have found this system to work.

Deputy Police Chief Sara Cunningham said the Sudbury police service reached out to the York and Toronto police services, and “they're finding this program is a way better use of their resources without seeing a huge increase in residential or commercial break and enters where the alarm was tripped but police didn't respond.”

Heidi Ulrichsen is Sudbury.com’s associate content editor. She also covers education and the arts scene.