False alarms cost Memphis Police Department millions

By Andrew Douglas - bio | email | Twitter | Facebook

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Security alarms protect you and your family at home and work.  They're effective when they work properly, but thousands of times police are called when there's nothing wrong.

Documents obtained by the Action News Five Investigators are startling.  In 2008, the Memphis Police Department received a total of nearly 97,000 alarm calls.  Only 899 - less than one percent - were legitimate.

At least two officers respond to each call at a cost to taxpayers of $90 per hour.  Multiply that by 55,244 man hours, and it adds up to nearly five million dollars wasted on false alarms.

"I think the time has come for someone to be held accountable for the use of manpower and the use of resources," Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin said.

Armed with a list of addresses with frequent false alarms, the Action News Five Investigators went looking for answers.

At the Church's Chicken on Getwell, 26 false alarms were logged in January, 22 in February, 14 in March, and 13 in April.

"We have deliveries and they don't have the right code and they'll set the alarm off," an employee said.

As we went down the list, we discovered businesses and organizations were the main culprits, like the Checkers on South Bellevue, where seven false alarms were logged in one month.  Checkers' corporate office did not respond to our request for comment.

"I think we've got to go in a different direction," Godwin said. "I think there's got to be some penalty imposed."

The Memphis City Council is considering stiffer fines and penalties.  Under one proposal, anyone with more than two false alarms would have to pay$90 each time officers respond, to cover the cost of manpower, along with at $25 fine.  Currently, home and business owners fined after six false alarms.

Alarm inspections, board reviews, and even training classes may be required also for people who just can't keep their alarms quiet.

"It's like crying wolf and it's time to fix it," Godwin said.

City Council members will discuss the issue at a meeting Tuesday night.

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