Studies by a consultant for the Pine Bluff Police Department show that police responded to more than 35,000 calls in a 15-month period. Of those, approximately 11,747 were determined to be false alarm calls for which there was no public safety or criminal event.
Matthew Pate, who is a part-time police officer and holds several degrees in criminal justice, told members of the Pine Bluff City Council’s Public Safety Committee last week that the numbers mean that patrol officers are spending 34 percent of their time doing something that does not protect people or property.
Of the 11,747 calls officers responded to, only 94 (0.8%) resulted in an arrest report being written.
During a meeting of the committee, Pate explained that he compared alarm calls from Pine Bluff with those of San Antonio, Texas, a city with a population of 1.4 million. That means that while San Antonio officers responded to approximately 84,000 false alarm calls during the same 15-month period (Jan. 1, 2018 to March 3,1 2019), Pine Bluff officers responded to almost four times as many based on population.
In addition, San Antonio officers devoted approximately 50,400 hours to answering false alarm calls, while Pine Bluff officers devoted approximately 7,048 hours to the same type of calls. The time is based on the national average of 20 minutes per call multiplied by two officers, a primary officer who was the actual assigned officer, and a back-up officer.
Pate said his research showed that, based on an average patrol officer’s salary of $17.00 per hour (not including benefits or retirement), the department spent approximately $119,748 in direct salary. That figure assumes the department sent two officers to the call and it took 20 minutes from dispatch to resolution. To go a step farther, a conservative estimate shows that the department spent at least $3,534.10 per year for fuel alone on false alarm calls, not counting maintenance and wear and tear.
“That’s a significant public safety expenditure,” Pate said. “We’re spending a great deal of money with no net gain in public safety.”
He said 139 addresses were responsible for 38 percent of the total false alarm calls in the city in 2018.
According to a list furnished to members of the committee, the media and others at the meeting, 2206 Ridgway Road, W.T. Cheney Elementary School, topped the 2018 list with 121 false alarms, followed by 2401 E. 6th Ave., (Big Red), 2801 S. Olive St., (Jefferson Square), 1313 S. Blake St., (Unified Liquor) and 1519 S. Ohio St. (7-11 Liquor).
Pate said options available range from doing nothing and continuing to do business as usual, designating one police unit with two offices to respond only to alarms, or shifting the burden to property owners and alarm companies. By shifting the responsibility to property owners, it would provide an incentive for them to get and keep their equipment in working order or face fines, while the alarm companies would be required to keep their customers' equipment in working order or they would face fines after a certain number of false alarms are reported, Pate’s report said.
A second option would be for the alarm companies to provide their own responders to alarms, which would free up police officers to concentrate more on proactive and data-driven activities. That option, however, would likely encounter criticism from alarm company owners, and companies might pass the costs along to customers, not limited to those who have refused to maintain their equipment as they should.