Cincinnati Police change false alarm policy after investigation - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

Cincinnati Police change false alarm policy after investigation airs

CPS has led the city's false alarm list for more than a decade. The numbers the city provided us for this investigation show CPS false alarm calls are four times higher than the city's second-highest violator. (Source: Jody Barr, FOX19 NOW) CPS has led the city's false alarm list for more than a decade. The numbers the city provided us for this investigation show CPS false alarm calls are four times higher than the city's second-highest violator. (Source: Jody Barr, FOX19 NOW)
PNC's 4140 Hamilton Avenue location racked up 23 false alarm calls in 2014, the most of any other PNC branch. It's accounted for 44 false alarm calls since 2011. (Source: Jody Barr, FOX19 NOW) PNC's 4140 Hamilton Avenue location racked up 23 false alarm calls in 2014, the most of any other PNC branch. It's accounted for 44 false alarm calls since 2011. (Source: Jody Barr, FOX19 NOW)
The city's third-highest false alarm violator since 2011 is the police department's own impound lot. The lot racked up 170 false alarm calls since 2011. (Source: Jody Barr, FOX19 NOW) The city's third-highest false alarm violator since 2011 is the police department's own impound lot. The lot racked up 170 false alarm calls since 2011. (Source: Jody Barr, FOX19 NOW)
Cincinnati Police answered 61,781 false alarm calls between 2011 and 2014. (Source: Jody Barr, FOX19 NOW) Cincinnati Police answered 61,781 false alarm calls between 2011 and 2014. (Source: Jody Barr, FOX19 NOW)
CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) -

One day after a FOX19 investigation exposed the worst violators of the city's false burglar alarm ordinance, Cincinnati Police announced a policy change for officers responding to those calls. Chief Jeffrey Blackwell issued a change to the policy in an internal communication to officers.

The change went into effect Sunday.

The change allows officers to enter false alarm reports electronically into CPD's Records Management System. For decades, officers had to enter false alarm reports by hand onto a form that required a supervisor's review before the report was sent to the city's False Alarm Reduction Unit.

We requested an explanation on the policy change with CPD's spokeswoman, Tiffaney Hardy and Chief Blackwell Friday afternoon. But, as of this report, neither responded to FOX19 to clarify the change and how it will stop the waste of tax dollars in the city's fight against false alarm ordinance violators.

Last week, a FOX19 investigation uncovered a loophole in Cincinnati's false alarm ordinance that's allowing the city's top violator to go unpunished. The ordinance is supposed to reduce the number of false alarm calls Cincinnati Police deal with each year, but our analysis shows the number of calls have not dropped since 2011.


Cincinnati Police Department dispatch records show officers responded to 15,482 false alarm calls in 2011—only 10 of those were valid alarm calls. In 2014, CPD answered 16,146 alarms with only 124 coming in as valid alarm calls.

Our analysis found 95 percent of the city's burglar alarm calls are false alarms.

The calls take CPD officers off patrol beats and away from policing. Each call, according to city records, takes 3.4 hours to deal with. Since 2011, the city's issued $3,524,000 in fines but has only collected $2,207,166.42.

Since 2011, CPD records show false alarms have taken 16,928 man hours from the department. That's equal to eight officers spending an entire work year answering nothing other than false alarm calls.

MOST CHRONIC VIOLATORS

Several months ago we filed an Ohio Open Records Act request with Cincinnati Police, looking for the names of alarm owners, addresses and number of false alarm calls to find out who's violating the city's ordinance. Months later, the city provided some of that data to FOX19.

CPD dispatch records show the businesses at the top of the false alarm list in 2011 are the same ones that top the list today.

The top three:

Cincinnati Public Schools

From 2011 until the end of 2014, Cincinnati Public Schools accounted for 3,472 false alarms. In 2014, CPS racked up 823 false alarms with the majority of those calls coming from Walnut Hills High School. That high school caused 274 police runs for alarms that turned out to be false.

CPS has multiple schools with false alarm calls. In 2014, Hughes High School had 255 false alarms, Withrow High accounted for another 191 calls and the School for Creative and Performing Arts caused 118 false alarm calls.

CPS Spokeswoman, Janet Walsh, explained the call volume as being the result of owing 60 school buildings with tens of thousands of people going in and out of them each day. It's something Walsh said CPS could solve if they locked schools down each day.

“We also don't want to overreact,” Walsh told FOX19, “We don't want to say nobody can come to our schools and offices after hours.”

“It would be very simple, but wrong, we think to close our buildings after the last student has gotten on the last bus. We think there's a better way to work on this,” Walsh said.
SLIDESHOW: Cincinnati schools untouchable in violating false alarm law

The city's false alarm ordinance allows CPD to charge fines for two or more false alarm calls to a single address. The city's actively fining home owners and private businesses across the city, but the ordinance does not provide a way for the city to hold CPS accountable, despite CPS accounting for 3,472 of the 61,781 calls since 2011.

If CPS was held to the penalties outlined in the ordinance, our analysis shows CPS would have paid the city $2.7 million in fines since 2011.

Walsh said CPS is “looking at” a “single entry point” for all buildings after hours to help reduce the false alarm calls to the city. If that happens, it wouldn't go into effect until 2016, Walsh said.

CPD Chief Jeffrey Blackwell told FOX19, CPS must act to get their numbers down.

“First thing that needs to happen is they need to be aware of the magnitude of the problem,” Blackwell told FOX19 in an interview last week.

“We want them to understand that we need them to do their part to help make this situation better for us,” Blackwell said.

The chief's comments came after admitting to FOX19 that he did not know who the city's worst false alarm violators were—and had no clue about the number of false alarms that came in from CPS.

“I didn't realize that they were that high on the list,” Blackwell said, “That's a high number.”

The chief said CPD needs to plan to hold meetings with CPS to figure out ways to reduce the school district's false alarm problem for his department.

PNC Bank Branches and ATM locations

CPD dispatch records show PNC Bank branches and ATM locations across the city accounted for 890 false alarm dispatches since 2011—the second highest among all alarm permit holders in the city. Those calls came in to Cincinnati Police dispatchers at all hours of the workday and on weekends.

The data did not show a consistent time or date pattern for PNC false alarm calls.

CPD records show PNC accounted for 209 false alarms in 2011, 234 false alarms in 2012, 139 false alarms in 2013 and another 308 false alarms in 2014.

In 2014, the PNC branch with the highest false alarm calls was the 4140 Hamilton Avenue location. Dispatchers clocked 23 calls for that location. The highest number of false alarm calls for a single PNC Bank branch in the last two years came from the 6109 Glenway Avenue branch.

While shooting video of the bank, a PNC Vice President in the Wealth Management division placed an emergency call to 911 to have us removed from the public sidewalk. The caller, who identified herself as Orly Segal, confronted us before placing the 911 call.

Segal asked who we were with and after our crew identified itself as a FOX19 crew, Segal told us federal law prohibits photographing bank buildings. We objected to Ms. Segal's position and continued our work.

At 11:36 a.m., Segal called CPD dispatch to report an emergency—asking for a CPD unit. Minutes later, two CPD officers responded and left after determining no crime had been committed.

The officers were parked across the street from the bank before our crew arrived at the PNC location. Those officers admitted to our crew they'd watched us work for several minutes before the 911 call. At one point, Police Specialist Doug Lindle commented that he and his partner, Robert Becker, we eating lunch in their patrol SUV, and wondered if we were “shooting a commercial.”

PNC Bank spokeswoman, Marcey Zwiebel, declined to provide any bank official to interview with FOX19 for this report, but she did provide a statement:

“We are going through a process to verify issues (verification occurring through multiple channels) before local law enforcement is dispatched to a location in response to an alarm. We don't publicly discuss our physical security or the specific procedures we have in place, so I cannot provide additional details about our process.”

Despite topping the city's false alarm violator list since 2011, Zwiebel said PNC Bank didn't start addressing the false alarm problem until “late in the first quarter of this year,” Zwiebel wrote in an email.

CPD alarm fine records show PNC Bank is currently $700 delinquent in past alarm fines with the city. We do not know what—if any—fines PNC Bank has paid since 2011 because the city would not turn that information over to FOX19 under the open records act.

Cincinnati Police Impound Lot

Cincinnati Police's own impound lot is also contributing to the taxpayer resource drain from CPD. The lot, located on Spring Grove Avenue, accounted for 170 false alarm calls since 2011. The lot is the third-highest false alarm violator when compared to other violators in the last four years.

In 2014, the impound lot racked up 64 false alarm calls. Officers have spent 578 man hours off their patrols answering false alarm calls at the police impound lot.

CPD does not charge itself for the calls.

CITY FIGHTS BACK AGAINST DELINQUENT FALSE ALARM VIOLATORS

Last July, Cincinnati City Council voted to toughen up against false alarm violators who ignore fines under the ordinance. Council voted to suspend the alarm registrations from any alarm user who owes at least $500 in alarm fines.

The ordinance does not state the city is mandated to suspend those registrations, but states, “An additional 2014 Chapter 807 change gives the Police Department the power” to suspend registrations.

The suspension would prevent dispatchers from dispatching officers to that particular alarm address if a burglar alarm goes off.

“It's the folks that continually have these false alarms that are so frustrating,” city spokesman, Rocky Merz told FOX19.

“It's not a matter of chasing them around, fining them anymore. We've done what we can do with that. We're going to start turning the alarms off,” Merz said.

Under the ordinance, the city allows two false alarm calls to a single address before assessing fines. On the third call, the city issues a $50 fine. The fourth call nets a $75 fine, a fifth is a $100 fine, a sixth is a $150 fine, a seventh is $200, an eighth is $300, a ninth is $400 and a tenth false alarm is a $500 fine.

[Related: Delinquent Account Report]

An 11th and subsequent false alarm results in an $800 fine.

CPD will have to continue dealing with this problem until sometime in August. That's when the city's termination provision goes into effect for delinquent alarm registrations.

The revised ordinance does not indicate any other penalty for chronic false alarm violators, aside from the fee schedule outlined in the ordinance.

WHAT THE CITY HASN'T TURNED OVER

Our objective with this investigation was to find out whether the ordinance to reduce the city's false alarm burden was working. We also wanted to know whether the city was enforcing the letter of its law.

To do so, we needed multiple public records to determine this: false alarm dates, false alarm owners, the fines issued and to whom and who has and has not paid. As of this report, the city still has not released records to show whom the city's charged under the ordinance and which alarm owner paid fines.

What the city did release was its database of who qualifies as delinquent in paying false alarm fines and alarm registrations, as well as, the information of every false alarm reported to CPD dispatchers since 2011. The delinquent list is 628 pages long and lists hundreds of residential owners and Cincinnati businesses. This information dates back to 2011.

We continue to await the City of Cincinnati's compliance with the Ohio Open Records Act in turning over the public records concerning this investigation. We will update this investigation as soon as the city complies.

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