NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Costly False Alarms

January 17, 2003

With many municipalities facing fiscal overload, the last thing they need is the cost of police answering false burglar alarms. In Los Angeles, for example, in 2001, police responded to 127,000 burglar alarm calls, consuming 15 percent of their time, even though 97 percent were false. All those calls resulted in only one arrest.

In response, the new police chief of Los Angeles has proposed a new policy -- police will ignore alarms unless they are verified by the property owner or a private security service as genuine.

Some women have complained they will be endangered by rapists and burglars. Nevertheless, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Eugene, Oregon have adopted similar policies and about 30 other cities and towns are considering doing so.

  • Police nationwide responded to 38 million burglar alarms in 1998 -- and 98 percent of them were false.
  • False alarms cost the police some $1.5 billion -- and accounted for 10 percent to 25 percent of all police calls.
  • The Justice Department estimates ending false burglar alarms would free up about 35,000 police officers across the nation.

False alarms are caused by several factors -- pets, inadequate training of homeowners, dead batteries, faulty installation and even cobwebs covering motion detectors.

Source: Fox Butterfield, "Alarms Without the Burglars Put Strain on Police Budgets," New York Times, January 17, 2003.


Browse more articles on Government Issues