Burglaries Rise after Verified Response in Fremont, Calif.

Police defend false alarm policy, but police stats indicate 14.4 increase in burglary rates


Apr. 3--A year after Fremont police stopped responding to burglar alarms -- unless they had independent confirmation that a home or business had been broken into -- the department's statistics show that burglary rates jumped 14.4 percent from the previous year.

While that number is fueling an I-told-you-so attitude from critics of the controversial "verified response" policy, police say a year of statistics isn't enough to draw conclusions. Also, other Bay Area cities saw similar, and even larger, jumps.

Fremont police say there were 854 burglaries in 2004, compared with 977 burglaries during the first 11 months of the program, which went into effect in March 2005.

"I know I'm biased, but I would give the policy a D," said Michael Salk, spokesman for the East Bay Alarm Association, which represents burglar alarm companies. "This isn't the right solution. What they've needed to do is increase fines for alarm abusers to pay for more police. I felt this was predictable, and now we're seeing it in the numbers."

Fremont businessman Dennis Wolfe, who has filed a lawsuit alleging that the policy was approved without the proper public comment, agreed.

"The fact is, burglaries are up," he said. "I was never against this policy per se, but I think it could have been better developed. Why didn't the chief simply say, 'We will respond to all burglaries as resources permit and officers are available?' This policy of not showing up just tells burglars in Fremont that no one's coming. I think they just want us to feel fear, so that we'll pass a new tax next year."

Fremont police spokesman Bill Veteran said burglary is a cyclical crime. "Eleven months of stats aren't enough to gauge anything," he said.

The FBI's uniform crime statistics show that nationally, burglaries dropped by 1.1 percent, but increased almost 8 percent in Northern California in the first six months of 2005 compared with the first six months of 2004, the latest data available.

During the same period in San Jose, burglaries increased by almost 8.5 percent; in Santa Clara, by almost 17 percent, and in Sunnyvale, by almost 25 percent, the FBI data shows. In those three South Bay cities, police still respond to burglar alarms.

"Verified response" means that Fremont police show up when a burglar alarm goes off only if a security guard, video camera, neighbor or some third party verifies that a burglary has taken, or is taking, place. Police officials also say they respond to burglar alarms at high-risk businesses, such as gun shops.

Fremont Police Chief Craig Steckler was out of town Friday and not available for comment.

In March 2005, Steckler said he implemented the policy because he was tired of sending officers to burglar alarms that were tripped accidentally.

Steckler said 7,000 burglar alarms went off in Fremont in 2004, and only 66 were legitimate. The nationwide average for false burglar alarms is between 90 percent and 95 percent. About two dozen other cities in the country also employ the verified response system.

Responding to alarms cost the Fremont department about $688,000 in 2004, said Steckler, who tallied the time it took two officers to show up at homes where the alarm typically went off by mistake.

There is no way to put a dollar figure on how much the department is recouping now, Veteran said. But he pointed out that police made 300 more arrests this year than last year.

"You could argue they're out patrolling high-crime areas and making more arrests," Veteran said.

According to Fremont police statistics, burglaries have gone up or down depending on the year, and most burglaries are committed by men who are 15 to 25 years old, often during the summer.

In 2005, Fremont police say, there were 2.78 burglaries a day compared with 3.9 burglaries in 1995. The lowest number of burglaries in the past decade occurred in 2004, when there were 2.57 burglaries a day, and the highest number occurred in 1997, when there were 4.1 burglaries a day.

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