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Pittsburgh police to change burglar call response, saying "overwhelming majority" are false

Police chief pushes back against criticisms on staffing
Police chief pushes back against criticisms on staffing 03:32

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Pittsburgh police are changing the way officers respond to burglar alarms, saying right now the calls eat up thousands of police staff hours each year and the "overwhelming majority" are false.

The decision was made after the bureau's Crime Analysis Unit was asked to compile data on the nearly 9,100 burglar alarm calls in 2023 and found that less than half a percent -- 0.43% -- generated police reports. Of those 39 incidents, the city says six involved a real alarm, a break-in occurring or a suspect who was nearby. 

Under the current model, police respond to all burglar alarms, even if the alarm company can't verify them. But Police Chief Larry Scirotto says these calls resulted in nearly 4,200 police staff hours with an average of 13.5 minutes spent per unit. 

"This is not a cost-effective or productive use of officers' time that could be spent bolstering community engagement efforts, increasing training time, expanding proactive patrols, and prioritizing officer wellness initiatives," Scirotto said in a press release. "Several cities across the U.S. have adopted this model which has resulted in cost savings for residents without sacrificing service quality or public safety."

Police will now respond to medical alert alarms, secondary to EMS, and human-activated hold-up and panic alarms. They'll respond to priority locations where an unauthorized intrusion has the potential to become a larger threat to public safety, like at government buildings or medical facilities. Officers will also come for verified burglar alarms where someone can provide reliable information and they'll respond to multiple progressive alarm activations.  

Now after the Allegheny County Emergency Operations Center receives a burglar alarm activation, dispatchers will try to verify the alarm and assign call priority based on whether it's verified or unverified. Verified burglar alarms will be dispatched as high priority calls, the city says. 

There will also be an effort to crack down on false alarms, issuing penalties in accordance with a city ordinance. Each alarm holder will be allowed two false alarm responses, but after that, there will be a fee. The city says one single address resulted in 81 burglar alarm service calls, which reinforces the need to hold permit holders responsible. 

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