NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

911 and Private Market Alarm Response Providers

September 3, 2002

A new study suggests the burden on the nation's 911 systems would be lessened significantly if there were a decrease in the number of incoming non-emergency calls and false fire and burglar alarms. Researchers recommend establishing a market of private alarm response providers.

They argue that consumption of the alarm response providers would be restricted to those who pay, and service providers would adjust their pricing to adequately cover the service. Salt Lake City implemented such a policy in December of 2000:

  • In the preceding year, Salt Lake police responded to 8,213 false alarms, at a direct cost of $492,780 and an average response time of 40 minutes -- though occasionally it took as long as 2.5 hours.
  • Furthermore, only 12 percent of the city's residences and businesses had alarm systems; hence, 88 percent of the population subsidized a private service to a small, well-defined group of people.
  • Those costs dissipated significantly following the December 2000 ordinance because police were no longer the primary responders to burglar alarms.
  • Instead, seven security companies began offering initial response services for fees ranging from $15 to $35 an incident - rates that were substantially less than the $60 average cost to the police.

Security companies' response times ranged from six to 15 minutes, with most responses under 10 minutes.

The Salt Lake City results could be replicated elsewhere, researchers say. If other areas were to adopt similar policies, many private security firms would enter the market to provide services. Also, a private market for initial alarm response reduces the number of false activations, reduces taxpayer costs, and allows police to concentrate on the apprehension of criminals.

Source: Erwin A. Blackstone, Simon Hakim and Uriel Spiegel, "Not Calling the Police (First)," Regulation, Spring 2002, Vol. 25, No. 1, Cato Institute.



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