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I-Team: Why Security Alarms Are Going Unanswered

(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Mireya Villarreal
A native Texan, Mireya was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley....
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FORT WORTH (CBS 11 NEWS) - If you have an alarm and it goes off, you might think help is on the way.  But in certain cities, your alarm is virtually worthless if you don’t have a permit.

People pay big bucks to keep their homes and businesses safe, but the CBS 11 I-Team Investigator Mireya Villarreal discovered many alarms are going unanswered.

Business is steady at the auto service shop in Fort Worth off Alston Street and Rosedale. Owner, Abdullah Selim, has been here for nine years.  He says while the neighborhood looks good now it wasn’t always so safe; which is why Selim decided to invest in an alarm system.

“It’s only $25 a month.  It’s cheap,” Selim said.  “So, I decided to do it.  I thought it was a good idea to do it.”

That first year Selim also paid for an alarm permit with the city, as required by a Fort Worth ordinance.  But last year, he forgot to renew it and quickly learned how big of an impact that little piece of paper could make.

“I called the cops two times, and they never showed up. I waited and waited and he never showed up,” Selim remembered.

In 2012, Selim’s auto shop alarm went off 16 times.  According to the city’s own data, no one ever responded because the business didn’t have a permit.  Selim says, thankfully, none of those calls resulted in an actual crime.

But the I-Team got a hold of information from the Fort Worth Police Department that shows Selim is not alone.  Since 2011, 38,306 calls have gone unanswered due to no permits.

Fort Worth’s Police Department wouldn’t comment about these numbers or their policy.  But Sergeant Kelly Peel did send us a statement, saying in part, “This program saves taxpayers from the expense of officers responding to false alarm calls.”  To that point, the data we have shows, of the calls Fort Worth Police did respond to in 2012, more than 19,000 were false alarms.

“False alarms, it’s well over 90% of the time. But it’s that 2-4% of the time, where it’s a real actual break-in,” Dwayne Stoltzfus of Smith Monitoring explained.

Stoltzfus is part owner of Smith Monitoring, one of the biggest alarm companies in North Texas.  In the last few years, he’s seen a big increase in the number of home and business owners wanting alarm systems.  Once they’re installed, the company encourages all their customers to take out permits.

“The permit is a revenue source for the cities,” Stoltzfus noted.  “And really, what that allows them to do is to have more of a presence. So, ideally that goes towards having more officers in the field.”

Fort Worth currently has 34,812 active alarm permits.  At $50 dollars a pop, that means the city brought in more than $1.7 million this past year.  The I-Team uncovered, despite what you might think, instead of putting that money towards more police boots on the ground, it actually goes into the city’s General Fund; which means it can be used for any of the city’s services.

We checked with Irving and Dallas, who also require alarm permits.  Like Fort Worth, they will not respond if someone doesn’t have their system registered and their permit money goes to the general fund, not directly to their police department.

The following is the complete statement provided to CBS 11 from Sgt. Kelly Peel, Fort Worth Police Department:

“A false burglar alarm is a national problem not unique to Fort Worth. In the recent past, a national study was conducted by the Department of Justice. The National trend at that time was that 94-98% percent of all alarm calls to police were false. The study cited three major causes for these false alarms:

1)    User error

2)    Faulty equipment

3)    Poor installation

These calls also made up 10-25% of all calls to police. These statistics create a huge waste of taxpayer dollars and tie up police officers from responding to other police calls for service.After analyzing the data, many of false burglary alarms are to the same address.  Police communications process calls as a Burglary Alarm-No Permit when there is no permit or the permit is invalid.  Citizens are not educated by the alarm companies when they sell them an alarm system about the No Permit No Response Alarm policy.  Alarm companies actively market and sell alarm systems in the City of Fort Worth without consumer knowledge about police response requiring a permit.  Alarm companies call the Police Department for service and the Police Department rarely talks with the citizen. This complicates the process of educating the citizen about the Alarm Response requirements.”

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