Video alarms help police prioritize response

Police implementing prioritized response polices to reduce false alarms, increase capture rate

While efforts by the alarm industry and law enforcement community have helped reduce false alarm dispatches dramatically over the past decade, innovations in surveillance technology are poised to bolster that effort even further.

A city that has implemented one of these policies with positive results is Charlotte, N.C. According to Maj. Eddie Levins of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department, the city passed an ordinance two years ago that required alarm owners to apply for permits and if they suffered too many false alarms, the police department would no longer respond.

However, with the department's prioritized response policy, if an alarm owner has video evidence that a crime is being committed on their property, Levins said the police department will respond even if they've repeatedly violated the ordinance.

"We always respond to video alarms or when there is video evidence that (the alarm company) can send to us," he said. "Even if you've been cut off by the alarm ordinance we still respond with the idea that the information is so much better. The idea is to increase the capture rate because we know what we're responding to, we have better information so we make it a priority one call so it's an immediate response."

Levins said that the alarm companies have done a good job of vetting video feeds from their customers so that police are not simply responding to a person on the premises.

"They don't send us on the dog running across the beam, which was the problem we had with a lot of sensor alarms," Levins explained. "They give us better information and it tells us what we're looking for. I think when you have officers responding to situations like this, they respond more informed and basically in a safer environment because they know what they're getting into."

According to Levins, the city answers about 100,000 alarm calls each year, but they only average around 8,000 break-ins. Video surveillance systems working in conjunction with alarm systems will only help to reduce the number of alarms that the city responds to , Levins said, because if there is an alarm and the video doesn't show any corroborating evidence then police won't respond.

An alarm with corresponding video evidence also dictates a different type of response by police.
Once the officers have the information (from the video) out there, it does dictate a lot of the response, the way we respond with lights or sirens, how many cars we're going to have to send and it gives us point-of-entry quite often so we know where to start," Levins explained.

Levins believes that the entire e-911 system is moving towards a framework where people are able to provide information to police and other first responders more quickly using different types of mediums.

"It's going to open up a lot of doors for a lot of people. It will save us a whole lot of trouble responding to calls we have no clue about or just continually respond to. But, we are recommending video where we have constant repeat offenders that they just can't figure out why the alarm's going off," he said.

Levins said that he hopes that the alarm industry begins moving more towards the utilization of video in conjunction with sensors because it will give people better options.

"The people who constantly have false alarms who don't have the video, we're not going to be responding. The way the ordinance is written, we're not going to respond," he said. "Hopefully the video will decrease our need to respond, which saves us and the taxpayers a lot of money, but also increases our capture rate because when we do respond we know we're responding to something that's real. Hopefully, as the (alarm) industry grows and takes (video) up more it will be just as cost-effective or better than the current set of alarms."

Levins said that law enforcement needs to make sure they catch up with the technology curve in the industry so that they can handle these new data streams.

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