Tim Moye came armed with a question: Will Akron police respond when his home security alarm sounds and he needs help?
His is a common concern among city residents affected by the Akron Police Department’s looming policy switch that changes when an officer will — or will not — immediately respond to an alarm.
Moye was among 80 residents who packed the meeting room inside the Northwest Akron Branch Library to voice their concerns, ask questions and hear in greater detail the plan that goes into effect April 1.
The meeting was called by the Fairlawn Heights Neighborhood Association whose members are among the largest concentration of home security alarm customers in the city.
“When I first heard of it, I thought, ‘What the [heck] is going on? What are we going to do?’ This is like a free invitation to break into your house,” Moye, 66, said after the Tuesday night session.
“Now, I feel comfortable. I understand it better.”
The volume of questions, concerns and misleading information is one reason police have delayed the switch from the previously announced March 1 start date.
The so-called verified response plan is the department’s reaction to the thousands of false alarms officers respond to every year.
Police estimate that nearly 99 percent of alarm calls are bogus and waste department resources by needlessly consuming officers’ time. There are about 9,000 registered residential and business alarms in the city.
Since Police Chief James Nice rolled out his plan in December, alarm industry lobbyists have put up a defensive front, contending the chief’s plan is too draconian.
They are urging the city to consider other methods to handle the false alarm dilemma as opposed to the mandate that a need for an officer be verified before police will respond.
One primary concern residents continue to voice focuses on the worst-case scenario: What will police do when an intruder visits, the security alarm sounds and a resident is in bed or otherwise unable to verify the need for an officer?
“I’m relying on those other people on the line to be my lifeline,” West Akron resident Harriet Chapman said during the session Tuesday with police and an alarm company representative.
“What if there isn’t a verified response? What if the clever guy breaks in? The one time I need you,” Chapman said, “and you’re not there. I’m going to be a statistic.”
Police Capt. Paul Calvaruso assured residents that officers will continue to respond to panic alarms triggered during home invasions. Broken glass also will prompt an immediate response from police, he said.
At the same time, he strongly suggested that residents contract with a reputable security system provider and install an efficient system that includes motion sensors, cameras and a remote panic button that will show police that the alarm was not activated inadvertently.
“When there’s any self-initiated activation, that’s verified. That hasn’t changed at all,” Calvaruso said. “We will respond. That’s a high-priority call.”
Residents also are raising concerns that the city’s decision to publicize its policy change is like flashing a green-light message to burglars.
Calvaruso told the crowd that crime has not risen in other cities where the verified response policy was implemented. At the same time, he assured residents that a spike in crime would prompt change in the policy.
Once the policy is enacted, burglary and alarm calls will be audited daily to track any changes, he said.
“We’re going to be looking at that. If burglaries start shooting up, then we’re going to have to say, ‘What’s going on here?’ ” Calvaruso said.
There are other exceptions to the verification policy. One calls for police to respond immediately in cases where the security company has been notified in advance that the resident is on vacation.
Police say much of the confusion and fear about the policy stems from the alarm industry, which has sent letters to residents and the media critical of the plan.
In its latest campaign, the industry accuses Akron police of misconduct, saying the verified response policy will violate the very city ordinances — and the U.S. Constitution — that officers are sworn to uphold.
Police wasted little time firing back, saying the alarm company lobbyists are trying to fuel fear with misleading claims, all to protect their profits while having police perform their work.
In an op-ed published Sunday in the Beacon Journal, Chief Nice took the industry to task for what he calls “misleading information” being mailed to residents.
Nearly all of the department’s 10,000 annual alarm calls are bogus, he said, but they still gobble up officers’ time.
Nice said change is needed so that the 95 percent of city residents without alarms are not paying for the services of the few with them. He called the current system “broken” and in need of change.
“The alarm companies collect a fee each month from their clients,” Nice wrote. “They then expect the police department to provide that service. There is no other industry that collects fees but has the city provide the service.”
In addition, alarms will not be ignored, Nice said. Instead, unless a need is verified, the new policy places alarm calls in a lower priority level.
“If a police officer in that area sees an alarm notification and is not on a call, he or she will respond to see whether there is a problem. The only difference is that they will not be dispatched,” he said.
Like Moye and others who attended Tuesday’s meeting, Chapman said she left with at least a better understanding of why police are making the change.
“I read the Beacon Journal; I’m concerned about the crime wave,” she said. “I have benefited from the ability to contact police and fire in Akron over the years that I have been a resident, and they have responded promptly. I simply want to ensure that the responsiveness is going to continue.”
She added that she’s “a cautious person. I am going to remain a cautious and vigilant person and I’m going to exercise whatever rights I have to be proactive about my security and those of my neighbors.
“I would love constant patrols through my neighborhood, and now that does not seem to be economically feasible.”