In Dallas, Alarm Proposal Debate Continues

The Dallas City Council traded jabs Wednesday over a controversial burglar alarm proposal, under which police would continue to respond to residential alarms but not commercial ones.

The measure, which comes up for a vote at next Wednesday's City Council meeting, is designed to free up police resources now used answering false alarms.

But the compromise is drawing sharp criticism from the alarm industry, which has been fighting any form of "verified response" - in which officers respond only when a witness on the ground confirms the alarm is valid - since the proposal was first broached last summer.

Opponents said this latest version is unfair to businesses, simply because they haven't been as vocal as residents. Commercial false alarms make up about half of all false alarms.

"We're sending the wrong message to the business community that we heard an uproar from the citizens, so we're not going to put" verified response into effect for residential false alarms, City Council member Ron Natinsky said.

But Dallas won't have thriving businesses to send messages to if the city maintains its reputation for high crime, Mayor Laura Miller said.

"If our [police] chief says this is going to work, I think we've got to go with our chief," Ms. Miller said.

Verified response would allow Dallas police officers to ignore a burglar alarm signal that is not "human-activated," responding only after a witness verifies that a crime has occurred, calls 911 or presses a panic button.

The original proposal, which was endorsed by Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle and all the major police associations, would have implemented verified response for residential and commercial alarms.

Outrage from homeowners and the alarm industry led to Wednesday's compromise, which would lift the verified response provision off of residential alarm users - but implement stiffer fines for false alarms.

Verified response is a necessity, City Council member Steve Salazar said, particularly in a city where 97 percent of burglar alarms are false.

"To do nothing is to allow crime to increase," he said. "Having officers respond to false burglar alarms ... is not efficient, and it's not utilizing our police force in the most efficient way."

But council member Mitchell Rasansky said the whole verified response discussion has gone too far - and "should've been nipped in the bud months ago."

"There are just some things you cannot put a price tag on," he said. "I think we missed the boat."

If the verified response compromise is approved next week, residential alarm users would see increased fines for false alarms. Within a 12-month period, they would get three no-penalty alarms. The fourth, fifth and six false alarms would cost $50 each, and the seventh and eighth would cost $75. Alarm permits could be revoked for eight false alarms.