Columbus police responded to 229 alarm calls last month, 77 of which were residential. Most of those were false alarms.
But false or not, those calls mean money and manpower.
Months ago, when the police force was composed of 74 officers, Police Chief Selvain McQueen said he needed more officers on the streets. Now, with a recent surge in burglaries and violent crime, the police force is in even more need of beefing up. And we’re down to 68 officers — nine of whom could retire today.
Moving forward, as the chief works to hire and train new officers as well as recruit seasoned veterans, the department needs to be focused.
In addition to responding to frivolous alarm calls, police responded to 99 reports of suspicious people and 53 reports of suspicious vehicles. Again, in the vast majority of those cases, there was nothing to it.
In 2008, the Starkville Board of Aldermen passed an ordinance in an effort to reduce the number of false alarms police and firefighters are called to.
After three false alarms in the same calendar year, businesses are fined $75 for the fourth false alarm and $150 for all subsequent false alarms. For residential false alarms, there is a $25 fine after the first three alarm calls and a $50 fine for all subsequent false alarms.
The city of Columbus should enact a similar ordinance. It would reduce the amount of time and money the city wastes on officers responding to false alarms and maybe put a few dollars in the city’s coffers.
Starkville also offers a reprieve on the fines to homeowners and business owners who fix a defective alarm.
Such an ordinance in Columbus would relieve officers of some of their peripheral duties, so they can focus on crime fighting.
Aside from trying to reduce the false alarms, we, as a community, need to use more discretion when calling 911. It seems we’ve all gotten paranoid.
If there are teenagers you don’t know walking down the street, they might just be kids taking a stroll. And odds are, if you spend much time outside or looking out of the window, you’re going to see an unfamiliar car.
Pay attention. Look out for yourself and your neighbors. But don’t always rush to call the law.
We should feel safe in our own neighborhoods, and the police play a major role in that. But they shouldn’t have to console us every time we have unsubstantiated fears. It wastes their time and our money.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.