In Fremont, an Unclear Effect Following New Alarm Policy

A little more than a month after the Fremont Police Department's controversial decision to respond to burglar alarms only if there is independent confirmation that a break-in has occurred, police released numbers Monday showing that the city hasn't become a welcome mat for thieves, as critics were predicting.

Fremont became the first police department in California to implement the "verified response" policy on March 20. Unless officers happen to be nearby, police won't respond to a burglar alarm unless a security guard, neighbor or an audio/visual alarm system affirms that a criminal set off the alarm. The policy is a response to a nationwide epidemic of false burglar alarm rates -- about 95 percent of the total.

Since the policy was implemented, Fremont's combined residential/commercial burglaries dropped from 90 in March 2004 to 81 in March 2005. And April's numbers, through the 19th in both 2004 and 2005, showed a drop from 59 to 56, respectively.

The burglary rate was already dropping before the policy went into effect. From January to April 19, Fremont police reported residential burglaries dropped 12.3 percent; commercial burglaries dropped 10.4 percent.

"The reality is, like all crime, burglary is cyclical," said Fremont Police Chief Craig Steckler. "A lot of burglaries are committed by young men ages 15 to 25, and we'll probably see an upward trend during summer vacation.

"It's way too early to see if verified response has had any effect so far, positive or negative. But what I can say is, 'The crooks didn't carry Fremont away on their backs,' as was the dire prediction."

One of the policy's most vocal critics, Michael Salk of the East Bay Alarm Association, agrees with the chief about one thing: "A 30-day sample is statistically irrelevant."

Without providing specifics, Salk said he heard rumors that some smaller companies have sold out to larger firms because they couldn't provide the security patrol service, and that other alarm companies have taken almost a month to secure contracts with private companies to patrol their customers' homes.