Police to prioritize, respond to verified, high-risk security alarms

Kent Police are changing how officers respond to security alarms at businesses because 99 percent of the nearly 3,000 calls per year turned out to be false.

The department spends more than five hours per day responding to the alarms, often triggered by employees at the business when it opened or closed, Chief Ken Thomas said during an interview.

“It’s a waste of resources,” Thomas said. “We spend about $80,000 a year in response to false alarms.”

Effective June 1, police will no longer respond to non-verified, problem or chronic alarms at businesses in order to free up officers to deal with crimes across the city. Officers will continue to respond to residential alarms.

“We will still go to high-risk alarms like gun stores or pharmacies,” Thomas said.

Police will establish a verified alarm response protocol to other alarms that must meet a certain criteria.

“We are trying to get alarm companies and businesses to work more effectively,” Thomas said. “Some have listening devices so they can hear glass breaking or people inside, which would be a verified response. Or they have a camera system where the owner can watch on his phone (and see a break-in), we will respond. Or if there is a witness who sees something.”

Thomas met with Andrea Keikkala, executive director of the Kent Chamber of Commerce, to help spread the word about the change.

“I had the chance to sit down with Chief Thomas and (City) Council member (Jim) Berrios to go over the issue of false commercial alarms (not residential),” Keikkala said in a statement. “As the Kent Chamber we are constantly asking our city to be L.E.A.N (legislative advocacy, educational opportunities, advertising and networking to enhance and grow business and organizations) and responsible stewards of our tax dollars. And we believe that this initiative is a step in the right direction.

“With 99 percent of the 3,000 annual alarms for commercial property being false, costing the city approximately $80,000 a year, we are in agreement with the police department’s new policy to go to verified alarms and high-risk alarms only,” Keikkala said. “There are many new technologies out there that can verify the alarm immediately, and we believe it is our responsibility as business owners to work with the police department to curb this waste, not only of financial resources but of officer’s time in order for our police department to protect and serve our community.”

Kent Police looked at ways to become more efficient because the force remains nine officers down. Thomas would like to have 153 officers, but attrition, retirements and the lag time to hire new officers have kept the force understaffed. The chief said other police departments face similar challenges in what’s become a competitive market to hire new officers.

“We want to be transparent and open about the changes and hope the community will understand we are trying to use best business practices to be as efficient as we can with our resources,” Thomas said. “We think our officers will be able to do a better job of serving the community if they focus on things we can have a real impact on rather than false alarms.”

A few jurisdictions charge companies for responses to false alarms, but Thomas said it would take extra staff that he doesn’t have to oversee a system that would fine businesses for the calls.

“I believe city of Kent tries to be business friendly and we don’t want to charge businesses,” he said. “We want them to fix their system rather than face threats of fines.”

Online reporting returns

In addition to the cutback in response to false alarms, the police have brought back online reporting or e-reporting for certain crimes rather than having officers respond to the scene in cases where there are no suspects.

Crimes that can be reported online include harassing phone call, identify theft, lost property, theft, hit and run, theft from vehicle, vehicle tampering and vandalism.

Thomas dropped the online reporting about six months ago because officers ended up going to a lot of the calls anyway. But with the department understaffed, the chief decided to bring e-reporting back. Each online report will be reviewed by officers and assigned a case number.

The department in past years received about 1,500 to 2,500 online reports.

“My officers are overwhelmed,” Thomas said. “I need to give them some relief. Every other department in the region has online reporting.”

Officers were dispatched to nearly 97,000 calls in 2016.

“If 2,000 to 3,000 calls go to e-reporting and we have 3,000 fewer false alarm calls, we can free up officers for better service to residents,” Thomas said. “We can go to meaningful things rather false alarms or where there are no witnesses to a crime.”