Milwaukee Police Chief Calls Verified Response a Success

MILWAUKEE (AP) - Nearly six months after police stopped responding to burglar alarms until a break-in is verified, Milwaukee Police Chief Nannette Hegerty has asked aldermen to require alarm companies to respond with a trained security staff.

Hegerty called the change made by her department last September a success and credited it with leading to improved police response time to serious offenses.

Some firms have allowed customers to check on their own homes and businesses. Hegerty said that is dangerous and should be prohibited with a new ordinance.

"I think it's inappropriate for a homeowner or business owner to verify their own alarm," said Hegerty, adding it should fall to the companies "to respond to alarms they have installed."

Alderman Tony Zielinski said the chief was ignoring the chance to put even more officers on the street by embracing a system that would charge alarm owners extra.

"The change she wants will increase costs for alarm owners," Zielinski said. "Ask the alarm owners what they would rather have arriving - a security guard or a police officer."

The discussion came at a meeting of the Common Council's Public Safety Committee at which Hegerty said 5,331 police hours had been saved by the 6-month-old policy, leading to a 3 minute, 57 second improved response time for all serious police calls.

The Wisconsin Burglar & Fire Alarm Association said before the meeting that the number of burglaries has more than doubled since the policy was imposed, but it did not provide specifics.

When asked what it would take to change the response policy back, Hegerty said she would not reconsider it unless 119 officers were added to be put on the street.

That would put the force at about 1,500, just below its authorized level. There are about 150 vacancies now.

The chief said that, when the policy was changed last September, about 96 percent of the calls were false alarms, costing the department about $1.2 million a year in time that could have been spent on more productive patrols.

Zielinski has argued that would be more than covered if alarm owners were charged $70 a year, generating about $3.5 million. But it would be lower than the annual price tag for another 119 officers, which is $6.2 million.

Alderman Bob Donovan indicated he would sponsor the change Hegerty advocated.