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Dispatch Rate and the Director

A few years ago, I took a job with a police department to become a fingerprint technician. As with many government jobs, the advertised position varied a bit from the actual position and one of my main duties was to staff the front desk of the station. Since I worked the midnight shift, there wasn't a lot of foot traffic. As time passed,  I took on many interesting duties such as calibrating alco-sensors and tasers just to keep busy.  There was still down time though, and I began reading blogs when I couldn't find any other duties. One of my favorite law enforcement related blogs was "The Chief's Corner" written by Tom Casady who was Chief of Police in Lincoln, Nebraska at the time. He has since moved on to the position of Public Safety Director and the blog has been retitled "The Director's Desk." One of the reasons I found his blog so fascinating was that he appeared to be so technology savvy. At my station, I was the closest thing to a tech geek and was often called upon to help with computer stuff. I was called upon for tasks as simple as creating a document in Microsoft Word to creating a Microsoft Access database to track equipment. To see someone so comfortable with technology at the highest level of a police department was fascinating to me. If it didn't get so darn cold in Nebraska, I would have considered applying for a job just to get my hands on some of the technology that Lincoln PD was utilizing and developing. I have learned quite a bit from the Director's postings, passed along useful information to our technology department, and even made purchases based on recommendations of some products.

Since becoming the alarm administrator for my current jurisdiction, I have continued to follow the Director's blog. Several times over the years, he has mentioned Lincoln's alarm stats and I have read them with interest. This year's report heralded the news that Lincoln's false burglar alarms have been slashed in half with only 2,383 false alarms being recorded in 2012. I couldn't help myself and queried the Director for Lincoln's dispatch rate. This measure is the leading rate of comparison in the industry, and is found by dividing the number of alarm calls by the number of registered alarm systems. The Director kindly responded that the dispatch rate was .43 and then posted more information. Last year, my jurisdiction had 7500 false alarms and our dispatch rate was .32. I thought that our populations were roughly similar, so I decided to do some more digging to see how other numbers compare.

According to census data, my jurisdiction has a population of about 337,000 compared to Lincoln's 262,000.  However, the number of housing units differs by less than 1500. Lincoln boasts twice as many multi-unit dwellings (i.e. apartments, townhouses) though. Many of the other numbers are very similar until you get to the financial stats where things veer in dramatically different directions. This is reflected by the fact that annual income is more than double and home ownership is 20% higher in my jurisdiction.  It stands to reason that the number of alarm systems would also likely be higher in areas with higher income. I have also noted that tenants of apartments in my area are less likely than residents of single family dwellings to have alarm systems. I believe that this would also be the case in Lincoln.

An industry member recently told me that they believe that a number equal to 5% of the population can be used to estimate how many alarm systems are in an area. In this case, it would be expected that about 13,000 alarm systems should be registered in Lincoln and about 17,000 in my jurisdiction. According to the director, Lincoln has roughly 5500 alarm systems or fewer than half of the expected systems. My jurisdiction currently has 23,000 registered alarm systems which is about 6,000 more than expected. I know that there are even more systems out there since I register new systems every day when I process alarms. Obviously, averages are a result of highs and lows, but I am not ready to commit to that 5% rule yet. I think that income plays a significant role in how accurately the 5% rule can predict the number of alarm systems. Just for fun, I multiplied the number of housing units by 5% (110,546 x .05=5527) and it corresponds nicely to the number of systems registered in Lincoln, but it is significantly lower than registered systems here (112,000 x .05= 5600). I may have to do some more research...

We are the "outsource company" for a smaller jurisdiction which means that we administer their ordinance for them for a percentage of the alarm fines. In 2011, their dispatch rate was .64. In 2012, that was reduced to .45. The population for this town is 44,000. The 5% rule predicts 2200 alarm systems for this community. Surprisingly, this is about how many systems are registered. In 2013, we will be actively advertising the registration requirement so it will be interesting to see how the numbers change.  I expect the dispatch rate to drop as the number of permits reflect a more accurate picture of alarm systems within the jurisdiction.

I think that the dispatch rate is a helpful tool for alarm companies who know how many customers they have and how many alarms they dispatch. On the law enforcement side, I think that there may be some limits to the accuracy of this number. If a jurisdiction gets most of their permit registrations as a result of a site having a dispatch request, the dispatch rate is going to be skewed on the high side. If a jurisdiction goes on the offensive and educates the public about the need to register, there may be an artificially high decrease in the dispatch rate during that period. Also, dispatch rate doesn't reflect the alarm calls that are cancelled as a result of measures such as enhanced call verification (ECV). ECV requires alarm companies to make phone calls to the alarm site before making a dispatch request. On the law enforcement side, we don't see how many alarm calls are cancelled because of these measures.

I'm not sure what my point is other than curiosity gained me some answers, but brought many more questions.


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