The New Orleans Police Department is planning to roll out a new system for dealing with false burglar alarms with residents and businesses facing steeper fines that culminate with their alarm systems being ignored by the cops.
A recent press release noted there will be no fee for a first offense, a $75 fine for a second offense, $150 fines for the third and fourth offenses after which NOPD will not respond.
NOPD has touted the program as a way to reduce the strain on the police force and increase its ability to respond to emergencies.
The data behind false alarms supports the police department’s claim. Based on 2014 statistics, NOPD could earn nearly $2 million per year in fines and save almost 4,000 hours of time.
To understand those time and cost savings, I filed a public records request with NOPD for detailed Calls for Service data for 2014. This includes exact addresses of all false alarm calls.
According to the data, NOPD responded to 48,308 burglar alarms in 2014 with the vast majority being false alarms with Necessary Action Taken (NAT) disposition. The top 266 addresses forced nearly 8,000 NOPD responses which was more than the 7,800 addresses who had only one burglar alarm call.
The amount of time wasted on false alarms can be calculated by subtracting the time of each call’s closure from the time the officer was dispatched. This establishes 12,630 hours of time spent by NOPD responding to burglar alarms in 2014 with an average of 15 minutes and 30 seconds spent on each call.
The new program promises two benefits to NOPD: less time spent chasing false alarms and fine money for the city. It’s difficult to predict how this program will change behavior, but it’s possible to analyze 2014’s data to evaluate how much time and money the city will earn over the course of a year if behavior does not change at all.
This provides a minimum floor for the program’s benefits with everything else being lagniappe.
The minimum monetary benefits of the new policy are relatively easy to calculate using 2014’s data. There were 7,815 addresses with just one alarm who would receive just a warning. There were 3,368 addresses with two alarms, 1,781 addresses with three alarms, and 3,430 addresses with four or more alarms.
Fines add up, so an address with four false alarms would presumably be required to pay after the second, third and fourth alarms for a total of $375.
The payment schedule for 2014 had the program been implemented would have looked like this:
Of course, about two percent of burglar alarm calls aren’t false alarms, so subtracting that total from the above total brings a monetary benefit of around $1.9 million per year at 2014 rates. The goal of this new system is to reduce false alarms, so fewer false alarms in the future would result in less money raised for New Orleans.
Calculating the potential gains from this new system in terms of time saved is a tad more difficult. Let’s assume again that there is no change in behavior from 2014’s burglar alarm totals to figure out the minimum amount of time saved.
If there’s no change in behavior then NOPD would have to respond at least once to all 16,000 addresses that reported a burglar alarm in 2014. Nearly 14,000 addresses reported four or fewer burglar alarms in 2014. Those addresses caused 24,000 responses costing over 6,000 hours of response time. These responses would still be necessary under the new system without a change in behavior.
The real benefit in terms of time saved, therefore, comes with NOPD no longer responding to the 2,400 addresses that required more than four responses . These addresses required over 24,000 responses in 2014 and cost 6,400 hours of time lost.
The new system would require four responses by officers to each of those 2,400 addresses, but avoiding additional responses would save 3,875 hours of response time. This time savings, if realized, would represent a 30.7 percent reduction in time spent chasing false alarms.
A New System is Needed in 2015
A false alarm reduction program is desperately needed as soon as possible. As of late September, New Orleans was on pace for 50,781 alarm calls in 2015, a roughly 5 percent rise from 2014.
In addition, NOPD is spending more time per alarm. The average alarm call costs NOPD 17 minutes and 40 seconds in 2015 compared to the 15 minutes and 30 seconds spent per alarm in 2014.
This two additional minutes per call adds up.
As a result, NOPD is on pace to spend nearly 15,000 hours responding to alarms in 2015, a 25 percent rise from 2014 totals.
Breaking down these addresses by the number of calls each has made reveals that burglar alarm calls are more varied in 2015 than they were in 2014. The 2015 data shows 11,477 addresses have made just one call as of late September compared to 7,815 in 2014 (I used the NOLA.gov data for 2015 and identified common addresses by their geocoordinates).
In other words, NOPD would have stopped responding to roughly 2,400 addresses with more than four burglar alarm calls in 2014 compared to half as many so far in 2015. As a result, the impact would be only a 15 percent reduction in responses at 2015 levels.
This analysis establishes the minimum expected value from the new false alarm program. NOPD could earn nearly $2 million per year and reduce the time spent chasing false alarms by around 30 percent, though reviewing 2015 data suggests the benefits may vary from year.
This new program should change citizen behaviors regarding burglar alarms, so logic suggests the cost savings will decline over time while the amount of time saved should increase. This analysis shows the program’s potential value and provides a blueprint for measuring its impact once the system is in place.