Monday, May 6, 2013

Personal touch

I blogged last week a couple times about the police department's efforts to reduce false alarms, as a means of both using resources efficiently and improving public safety. One of the most effective tools in achieving this reduction was a redesigned municipal ordinance that increased the cost for chronic repeat false alarms. The pocketbook can be a powerful motivator. There is, however, another tool that has proven to be powerful  and one that I think is often under appreciated

Back in 2011, a home improvement store here in Lincoln had developed quite the reputation for their chronic false alarms. That year, Lincoln police officers responded to 19 false alarms at the business Apparently the escalating fines for more than 3 false alarms in a single year hadn't done the trick. But in 2012 and 2013, there has been a dramatic change. There has been one false alarm in 2013, and there were only two in all of 2012. A drop from 19 false alarms to two at a big box retailer is pretty astounding.  So, what changed?

The answer lies in the personal touch. Sgt. Ed Sheridan paid a visit to the store, and talked face-to-face with the manager. That was the turning point. I have a feeling that for some businesses the bill for excessive false alarm simply goes into the accounts payable stack along with the other monthly bills for pest control, lawn care, and garbage service. When you meet the right person and have a personal conversation, though, you can often change this dynamic.

You can let the manager know that this isn't just a matter of cost: responding to false alarms puts officers and the public at risk.You can tell the manager about your concern that repeated response to false alarms can lull police officers into a deadly sense of complacency. You can tell him or her about the police officers and firefighters right here in Lincoln who were killed during emergency driving. You can offer to speak personally to the firm's alarm company, or to make an appeal up the chain of command on the manager's behalf to a national or regional manager, if that would help get him or her the needed resources to solve the problem.

Engaging in this approach requires timely information about premises with emerging false alarm problems.  Lincoln's ordinance allows three free false alarm responses annually, before the fees kick in. We use one of our GIS applications, CrimeView Dashboard, to alert personnel in our five command areas of emergent alarm problems.  An automated query looks for addresses with three or more alarm dispatches within the past 90 days, then creates a widget that is displayed in the dashboard.  Although it appears on the dashboard automatically, you can drill into the data as far as you want with a mouse click. Here's what the false alarm widget displayed this morning for Capt. Anthony Butler and the Northwest Team officers:

This widget uses graduated symbol sizes and the number within the circle to immediately show the heavy hitters at a glance. It is a great example of using the power of geographic information systems (GIS) to deliver actionable information to police personnel.  We also have a significant problem with repeat false fire alarms. Beginning this year, these are also covered in Lincoln's ordinance. We are in the process of implementing the Omega Group's companion product for the fire service, FireView Dashboard, and I expect that repeat false alarms will be among the widgets we include on the dashboard for battalion chiefs and fire captains.


Michelle said...

And that is just the kind of technology that I lamented about on my blog earlier this week. I also wanted to say that I found your series for crime analysts useful for my unit as well. Thank you!

Michelle said...

Site visits are definitely one of the best tools in the box. Not only can the personal side of alarm response be explained, but often obvious fixes to the cause of alarms can be seen as well. A few minutes on the phone is also quite effective.
Using technology to put all of patrol on the "alarm reduction team" may be one of the keys to your success. Building my "team" is why I spent Sunday going to 3 roll calls--I may not have the fancy technology but I can use the tools that I have.

Tom Casady said...


You're quite welcome. Thanks to you, too, for giving me some good data to benchmark false alarm rates. I'm really starting to get excited about what we're doing with false fire alarms, and will use rate as the measure of success, rather than raw alarm numbers.

BTW, I think you are right about the low number of alarms in Lincoln. It's both the difference in household income, and the perception residents have of low crime.