Taking a cue from a highly critical inspector general’s report on police response times issued last year, New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison announced a new push Wednesday to ensure cops get to crime scenes faster by cutting down on the number of false alarms they respond to.
Harrison, joined by City Council members, said that an ordinance to be introduced Thursday would force private alarm monitoring companies to call their customers twice before police officers are dispatched to homes or businesses.
Almost one in three NOPD emergency responses is to a false alarm, according to police statistics, and reducing those calls for service is expected to free up the equivalent of six full-time officers at a time when Mayor Mitch Landrieu has made putting more cops on the beat a top priority.
Harrison said the new ordinance, if passed, would “significantly reduce wasted time and allow our officers to focus on responding to actual emergencies.”
Owners would face a “progressive fine” for false alarms — a warning after a first false report, a $75 fine after the second alarm and a $150 fine after the third. At that point, police will also stop responding to alarm calls from the problem address.
When officers respond to false alarms now, Harrison said, they generally respond with lights on as an emergency.
“Sometimes that puts us in grave danger, responding to things that are not crimes,” he said.
The average response time to a burglar alarm is 7 1/2 minutes, NOPD spokesman Tyler Gamble said. Alarms make up 11 percent of all NOPD calls for service, police said, and 98.8 percent of reported alarms are false.
Gamble could not say how much time the new policy could shave off the current average response by making police respond to fewer false alarms.
Council members Stacy Head, Jason Williams, Susan Guidry and Jared Brossett are set to introduce the ordinance at the council Thursday.
Guidry said she believed the measure would represent at most a minor inconvenience to homeowners. She said the warning and fines would serve as a reminder to “get that motion detector fixed so it doesn’t go off when the dog jumps off the couch.”
Last year, a report from Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux concluded that answering calls for service is simply not a priority for the NOPD. Too many officers are consigned to desk duty or working as supervisors, Quatrevaux said.
How long it actually takes police to respond to calls, Quatrevaux’s report found, remains a mystery, because police do not record response times for 13 percent of calls.
In response to those concerns about response times, Quatrevaux called for a new policy very similar to the one Harrison announced Wednesday: forcing alarm companies to verify with their customers that an alarm is not sounding falsely.
Proposals for such a change in policy have been made for years, Quatrevaux said Wednesday, but “we just couldn’t get it done.”
He praised Harrison for taking action on alarms and other steps to put more officers on street patrol.
Emails obtained by WWL-TV showed that previous Superintendent Ronal Serpas made a similar proposal to change the rules for burglar alarms in 2011. No action was taken at the time.
Head said she wished action had been taken sooner.
“Getting things to happen in government is a lot slower than, frankly, I think it should be,” she said.