Texas man angered over city's burglar alarm policy

Aug. 2--PALESTINE -- Daniel Bowman considers himself to be a lucky man, and an angry one.

Bowman, whose wife owns El Natural Bakery and Deli at 1900 W. Oak St., found himself Friday morning in the middle of a struggle with a would-be burglar and with City Hall over an alarm policy.

The alarm company for the bakery called about 5:55 a.m. Friday with the news that the shop's back door appeared to be open and that when it contacted the Palestine Police Department, it was told that the police would not be responding because the Bowmans had not registered the alarm with the city.

So Bowman quickly dressed, jumped in his pickup and drove to town, arriving about 15 minutes after the alarm company had called. As he approached the bakery, he could see the back door swung open, he said, so he parked on the side and walked in, expecting the building to be empty by now.

It wasn't.

Instead, Bowman surprised a man behind the counter where the cash register normally sat, clutching $25 in his hand.

"We don't keep money in the store at night but we had a late sale, so there was $25," Bowman explained.

For an instant, time seemed to stop long enough for Bowman to size the man up and realize he had no weapon and was slightly smaller than the 62-year-old Bowman.

So instead of allowing the man to flee, Bowman said he stepped forward, determined that the man was not leaving. He tried to pin the man down and call 9-1-1 but the man knocked the phone out of his hand, sending the batteries flying one direction and the handset another.

When the man tried to flee to the door, Bowman pulled it closed and shoved the padlock in place, locking both men inside. The struggle continued until Bowman pushed the man to the floor near another phone and was able to dial police to tell them what was happening.

Three squad cars arrived within two minutes, he said, and took the man, identified as 30-year-old Carlos Cesar Vidal, into custody, charging him with robbery and interfering with an emergency phone call, and also with burglary of a building at the Taqueria Mexicano Grill nearby on Palestine Avenue, where a 42-inch television set was reported missing by owner George Hernandez.

He considers himself to be a lucky man, Bowman said, since he escaped the encounter sore but unharmed.

It's the alarm policy more than the attempted burglary which has left him fuming.

Since Jan. 1, the City of Palestine has required commercial businesses to purchase a $10 annual permit to register their alarm systems with the police department as a way to reduce the number of false alarm calls police were receiving.

In a story published Dec. 15, 2007, police chief Larry Coutorie and Det. Nick Webb explained that the department had responded to hundreds of false alarm calls from local businesses, taking officers off the street while they responded, checked the building and tried to reach a keyholder to come turn off the alarm. Police would no longer respond to alarm calls from commercial businesses which did not purchase the permit.

However, the Bowmans were unaware of the policy since they had purchased their system only recently, Bowman said, and no one from the local alarm firm had mentioned the required permit.

"If I'd been a business where they'd been there 10 or 15 times on false alarms, I wouldn't be here (to complain)," Bowman said. "That's not the case. We're very careful on that. We understand that crying wolf is a terrible thing."

He made it clear that he puts no blame on the police for following procedure, and added that the officers who did respond to his phone call were professional and courteous.

Instead, Bowman said he thinks the ordinance should be changed to allow an officer to be sent the first time an unregistered business has an alarm call and that officers should have a permit form in their cars to give to business owners like himself, to either sign off that they are now aware of the requirement and plan to register their alarm or to sign that they refuse to do so.

"We sit and watch the news, we read the newspapers and we see our society and our culture fractured before our eyes with the violence and crime. It's not just here, it's everywhere," Bowman said. "The police we have have a terrible job to do. They need our support.

"But this kind of policy of non-responding only erodes the respect and support they need."

When asked about Bowman's situation, city manager Dale Brown said that the ordinance had not been written with the intent to keep police from responding to legitimate calls, only to reduce the high number of false alarms caused by setting the alarms to be too sensitive.

In addition, Brown said, the 9-1-1 tape of the conversation between the alarm company representative and the dispatcher apparently contained few details, other than the business' back door was open.

"The intent is not, obviously, to ignore situations like this when they happen," Brown said. "It would have helped to have had more information from the alarm company.

"The intent of the alarm ordinance was that police were being called out hundreds of times for no reason."

Instead, Bowman's idea for remedying the problem is something to think about, Brown said, as is the possibility of requiring alarm companies to notify customers.

"It's a very good suggestion," Brown said. "We'll look at it."