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Council Evaluates Verified Response Print E-mail
by Sam Merten    Wed, Sep 5, 2007, 06:09 pm

alarm.jpgPolice Chief David Kunkle and Deputy Chief Michael Genovesi appeared at Wednesday’s City Council meeting and gave the council a presentation about the progress of verified response.

This program, which requires business owners to have someone physically at the scene to verify the need for police to respond to an alarm, was divisive when the council voted to approve it 8-5 in December 2005. It looks to be another close vote when the council votes to continue or repeal the program.

During the first year of implementation (March 1, 2006 through February 28, 2007), Dallas experienced a 45 percent reduction in burglar alarm calls and a 0.6 percent decrease in business burglaries, according to the presentation. The number of false alarms is staggering -- 97 percent -- and Kunkle compared it to having a car that would only start three times out of 100 and on those three times, it would take so long that you’d miss your appointments.

However, Mayor Tom Leppert and council members Mitchell Rasansky and Ron Natinsky were outspoken against verified response. Leppert said when the original debate took place in 2005, he stood back and watched because it didn’t affect his business. Then he was surprised at what he began to hear walking the streets of Dallas and talking with small business owners.

Leppert said people told him verified response made it more difficult for them to be in business and that was a key in reaching his belief that verified response needs to be repealed. He also said it’s not a good policy because of the numbers and messages involved.

Two numbers Leppert focused on were the $1,560,000 that the police department says was saved in labor (24 officers) because of verified response and the $1,193,000 lost in revenue that would have normally been generated as a result of charging businesses for false alarms. He said not only are the numbers similar, but the nearly $1.2 million received would be hard cash as opposed to the $1.5 million of labor, which he said is a variable number because the officers are still roaming around and free to address a more significant need.

Leppert said the cost of businesses moving out and loss of sales and property taxes as a result are not accounted for in the numbers. He said with roughly a $25 billion economy, Dallas losing .004 percent of business would be enough to pay for the officers.

Leppert also mentioned another cost not shown in the police briefing -- human lives. He said he spoke with the owner of a drug store in a high-crime area that didn’t go down to his store to verify his alarm because he knew what kind of people were there and what they were looking for. The next day, his store was cleaned out, but had he gone down there, something much worse could have happened.

“I don’t know how to fill that cost,” Leppert said.

Police response to alarm calls average approximately 30 minutes, according to Chief Kunkle. Private companies average between 12-17 minutes, according to the company’s estimates. Councilman Steve Salazar asked why the private sector is able to do a better job. Kunkle said the private sector can “narrowly target what they want to be good at” and have lower labor costs while the DPD “must be all things to all people.”

“This policy is sending a message to the people of Dallas -- both residential and commercial -- that the competency is better in the hands of the private sector,” Leppert said. “And I simply don’t believe that.”

Leppert said he was concerned that the numbers are coming from security companies with an economic interest. He added that Thomas Jefferson’s first rule of thumb was to protect the citizens.

Leppert also told Kunkle he didn’t see Richardson, Plano and Frisco on the list of cities with verified response and those are cities Dallas is competing with to hold on to small and medium size business.

“This is the wrong policy for the pocketbooks of the people of Dallas, in sending a message of where we’re going to go in the future and in terms of how we’re talking to our citizens about the role of our police department in protecting them,” Leppert said.

Councilmember Rasansky opened his discussion by showing Kunkle hundreds of letters from his constituents who don’t like verified response. Rasansky said “these are dark days for Dallas” and “we don’t need to go back to the old Wild West.”

“This is very funny coming from Mitchell Rasansky about money. I’m not interested in the money,” Rasansky said. “What I’m interested in is someone coming to his business and finds a bugler in there, tries to stop them and might get killed. I’m concerned about these things.”

Rasansky challenged Kunkle’s numbers regarding Las Vegas, the first city with verified response. He said he had an FBI report with crime statistics that said burglaries rose 41.1 percent and total crime increased 36.6 percent in Las Vegas since the implementation of verified response.

Rasansky said he wondered if new businesses would go into undeveloped areas knowing they won’t get police response to their alarms.

“Those areas are going to stay undeveloped because I don’t know a businessman who would want to go in there with an alarm that isn’t going to be answered by the police department,” Rasansky said.

Rasansky said Dallas needs verified alarms for growth of the city and the safety of citizens and business owners. He said verified response needs to be repealed because the businesses pay taxes and are entitled to the police department answering their calls.

Councilmember Natinsky said he hasn’t changed his mind since voting against verified response in 2005. He was especially upset with wording in the presentation that said 86 percent of the citizens and businesses without alarms are subsidizing alarm responses for 14 percent who have alarms. Natinsky said using the word subsidy for a public service was troublesome. He used the example of saying that people who don’t have fires subsidize those who do.

Those expressing support of verified response were Mayor Pro Tem Dr. Elba Garcia and council members Jerry Allen, Vonciel Hill, and Pauline Medrano. Most of them touted the best use of officers and efficiency as the reasons behind their support. Councilmember Dave Neumann said he was in favor of sustaining the program, but also said he was conflicted about the issue.

Dr. Garcia said there is no evidence that verified response impacts burglary rates positively or negatively. She also said the alarm at her business has gone off and it has been because of thunder or a battery running out.

Dr. Garcia said the program is working by letting the police department focus more on those in need and said citizens deserve an efficient, quick police department. She said this is much like when the city decided to stop having officers respond to accidents that didn’t involve injury.

“Police have better things to do than referee a fender-bender,” Dr. Garcia said.

Dr. Garcia endorsed an idea discussed by Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway, which was to use cameras to verify the response instead of requiring someone to be at the scene. She also pointed out that France recently went to verified response for the entire country.

It appears as though there will be another close vote when this comes up soon on the agenda. Here is the briefing provided to the council.

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Comments (3)add comment
written by Sharon Boyd , September 06, 2007

It was a bad idea that came from Larry Davis and his Productivity Commission. I understand they packed the briefing with their supporters. Dallas citizens who don't think a business owner should have to personally confront a burglar before the police will respond should be at council on Wednesday, Sept 12 to encourage the council to repeal this silly ordinance.

written by Crying in Oakcliff , September 06, 2007

Dave Neumann being safe and not wanting to be seen as going against Leppert, but not wanting to be seen as going against the status quo. Anyone surprised. What a weasel.

written by David Martin , September 06, 2007

This is part of a string of bad recommendations from Larry Davis, which have included selling WRR and outsourcing heavy maintenance (which has left a shortage of equipment). Why is this guy allowed in City Hall. He was already busted for lobbying using city funds and raising money from security guard firms to support verified response.

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