Police plan to disregard automated alarms, council member wants debate
Jeff King, the owner of Grana, recently received a notice from the company that monitors his downtown restaurant’s alarm system. Attached was a letter signed by Chico Police Chief Kirk Trostle indicating that, as of June 15, police will no longer respond to “unconfirmed automated alarms.”
The letter defined those as “any alarm activated by non-human means … which has not been confirmed as valid by either a security guard or other responsible party at the scene, or through video confirmation of a break-in.”
During an interview at Grana, King expressed his profound displeasure with the policy change: “If the alarm in here goes off at 2 a.m., what am I supposed to do—come inside and make sure there’s someone in here, then call the police? Why am I paying for an alarm, then?”
Police officials say the change is just one part of their broader effort to trim inefficiencies—in this case, responding to thousands of false calls for service each year. In 2012, for instance, Chico police responded to more than 3,000 such alarms, said Lt. Mike O’Brien. Because an extremely small percentage of the alarms police respond to are triggered by burglars or other intruders, and given the department’s staffing shortage and budgetary constraints, police administration believe resources can be put to better use, he said.
“If something has to give, you have to look at ways to minimize impact [on the community],” O’Brien said. “We’re trying to find the least-painful solutions. When you’re looking at 3,000 bad calls for service, the right move is to cut.”
O’Brien explained that the new policy will not apply to panic alarms triggered by bank tellers and store clerks in immediate peril—hence the “human means” stipulation—and officers will still be dispatched in certain cases.
“If there’s something else that goes along with the automated alarm—someone on the scene or broken windows—we’re going to go,” O’Brien said. “That will not change.”
Critics of the new policy include City Councilman Randall Stone, who, considering the ongoing saga related to his accusations of racism against Chico Police Officer Todd Boothe, has become somewhat of a thorn in the side of the police department.
Stone told the CN&R that City Council members were unaware of the upcoming policy change until Trostle’s letter to alarm system companies began circulating among home and business owners.
“It’s unusual that a policy decision like that went out and the council didn’t even know about it,” Stone said in a phone interview. “We had to hear about it from our constituents. I haven’t seen a staff report; I haven’t seen any information about this policy other than constituents writing to me, telling me this is a disappointing and foolish move.”
Stone suggested the City Council’s upcoming June 17 budget session would have been an ideal time to discuss alternative courses of action, such as raising fees on users with multiple false alarms to recover the cost of police response.
“The time we do work on these things is coming up, and the decision was already made to effectuate this policy 48 hours before we are having that meeting,” he said. “There was no attempt to work with the council on this.”
Chief Trostle, on the other hand, maintains that the move is fully within his discretion. “It’s an operational decision I made as the chief of police,” he said during a phone interview. “The city councilors are policy makers. They do not oversee operation of the police department.”
Trostle also said that not responding to unverified alarms is congruent with municipal code. He pointed to article 5R.40.080, which states: “A robbery, burglary, medical or panic alarm may be activated only in the event of a robbery, burglary, or life-threatening incident which is in progress.”
As for Stone’s perceived lack of communication between police administration and the City Council, Trostle said he “followed the chain of command” by vetting his decision through the City Manager’s Office. What’s more, the word has been out—Action News Now initially broke news of the new alarm policy with a story aired on May 9.
“It’s been in the media,” Trostle said. “The council has been made aware, as far as I can see.”