City re-thinks ‘Do Not Respond’ list after Examiner inquiries

alarm sign

It’s late at night. You’re tucked safely and snugly in your bed, as are your children, when you hear a window break. Panic takes hold as you detect the unmistakable sounds of an intruder in your home. In the rush to protect your family, you forget to grab your phone, so calling 911 is out of the question.

Fortunately, the burglar alarm you pay to have monitored 24 hours a day is blaring and you pray that help arrives soon. Police are surely on their way.

Unless you live in Beaumont. Then the police may not be coming at all.

According to an Examiner investigation, thousands of Beaumont addresses are on a “Do Not Respond” list; police will not respond if an alarm sounds at these homes or businesses. Furthermore, many of those on the list are not even aware they are without protection should they ever need to rely on their trusty alarm system, as experienced by a local tipster who learned the cold, hard facts while waiting – in vain – for police to arrive when a suspected break-in occurred at a West End home.

Beaumont Police Chief Jimmy Singletary acknowledged the existence of the department’s blacklist, which contains the addresses of 2,082 private residences, along with 517 business locations. The contents of the list, however, are protected from Freedom of Information inquiries, and was not divulged to the media upon request. Additionally, several hundred more addresses were originally slated for inclusion on the Beaumont Police Department (BPD) “Do Not Respond” list, prior to Examiner questions pertaining to the city’s policy. Nearly 200 businesses and more than 440 residential addresses, according to BPD data, have been notified that their burglar alarm permit will soon expire. Before Wednesday, May 13, an expired alarm permit meant that your address was added to a Do Not Respond list — indefinitely.

Beaumont City Manager Kyle Hayes said May 13 the system changed that day, and officials are looking to completely revamp the process altogether.

“We’ve changed the procedure to where we will not put a business or a citizen in the No Response status for not paying the renewal (or permit) fee,” Hayes said. Other ways to get put on the list, he said, were to not pay fees associated with false alarm calls or by moving to a residence already on the list since the list has never been culled, to the best of his knowledge. 

The current city ordinance states that all alarm systems require a permit, but few residents are informed of that necessity by the alarm monitoring companies, costing the city thousands in unremitted permit fees.

“We recognize it’s important to get someone to renew because we want to know accurate and up-to-date information; it helps us to have that. We just don’t want to put someone in No Response for $25.”

In addition to the May 13 change prompted by Examiner inquiries, Hayes said city and police officials are working together with legal advisors to facilitate a way to better manage burglar alarm response and billing that may entail the alarm companies taking a more active role in the permitting process. Until that can be arranged, Hayes said, it is important for residents to pay alarm permitting fees — $25 annually, residential, and $50 commercial, in accordance with city ordinance. But, he added, the punishment for not paying the fees should not include the denial of police assistance.

Hayes said he was alarmed by the number of addresses on the city’s Do Not Respond list.

“Twenty-six-hundred either residences or commercial addresses; we don’t believe it’s a good number,” he said. That tally, Hayes added, “probably goes back years and years and years. People have moved, sold their businesses, so we have to try to flush that out and get a good number.”

Providing the city’s Do Not Respond statistics to The Examiner sparked internal concern, Hayes said.

“This has made us look at what we’re doing, why we’re doing it,” he said. “It has been helpful. We need to have a better ordinance and have better procedures.

“We are going to work on this. We need a better handle on the alarm companies, and on our response policies.

“We need to do better. We need to treat it like we’re starting off fresh.”

Hayes said he was willing to work on culling the Do Not Respond list but said that some penalties are necessary to curb false alarms. Responding to false alarms costs the city tens of thousands of dollars

annually, and according to Hayes, roughly 98 percent of all burglar alarm calls are false alarms.

Beaumont Police Department records administrator Shirley Spitzer said, according to BPD records from May 1, 2014, through April 30, 2015, officers from the department received 6,812 burglar alarm calls. Only 76 burglar alarm calls in that time frame had reports filed. Even of those few dozen reports, Spitzer added, not all were actually due to burglary activity.

“One was where a car hit a home and the burglar alarm went off,” she said. “There was a report filed on that.”

Hayes estimates roughly $20 spent on each false alarm, based on an average $40 an hour salary for a patrol officer that utilizes roughly 30 minutes on each alarm call. According to Hayes’ estimates, the city would have spent roughly $136,240 responding to all the department’s alarm calls — if they responded to them all. Spitzer said information as to which calls received police response were unavailable since the data only collects information about calls that elicited a police report.

Currently, Beaumont has 4,125 paid residential permits and 1,549 paid commercial permits. Last year, permitting fees alone from those active registrants netted $207,145 for the city. An additional $46,635 was generated from fees for false alarm calls.

Dispatch for Nederland, Port Neches and Groves said they do not have Do Not Respond lists in those cities. Port Arthur police likewise keep no such list, and do not charge for permitting an alarm system in the city. Residents in Port Arthur are not billed for their alarm system until after the fifth false alarm call in a 12-month period; then they are charged $50 for subsequent false alarm calls, a fee that can be waived if documentation is provided to the police department showing the alarm defect triggering unnecessary responses has been alleviated.

Chief Danny Sullins of the Lumberton Police Department said he’s heard of Beaumont’s Do Not Respond list but said, “We respond to every call we receive – every one.” Vidor Police Chief Dave Shows says his department responds to all alarm calls, as well, and handles excessive false alarm calls with a few words of advice.

“If we’re going out to a residence with a lot of false alarm calls, we tell them to get it checked out with the alarm provider,” Shows said simply. “And they do that.” 

Problem solved. 

“We just don’t have a big problem with alarms,” Shows said.

Anyone who suspects they may be on the BPD’s Do Not Respond list can call the alarm permit office at (409) 880-3836 to check their status.

Hayes said the residences and businesses on the Do Not Respond list can get police response by calling the police department personally to make a report or by triggering an alarm’s panic button.