City Hall

Audit: City Hall's Broken Burglary Alarm System Cost Dallas $1.6 Million

Here's how it's supposed to work: A business or property owner buys a burglar alarm then pays the city for a permit. When there's a burglar, police show up and make an arrest. If there are four or more false alarms in a year, the alarm owner is charged a fee. Officers are not supposed to respond to non-permitted alarms, nor are permits supposed to be given to locations outside the city.

That's not how things worked at City Hall, at least not between November 2008 and August 2010. An audit released today describes a security alarm permit system that was in shambles during that time, costing police thousands of hours of wasted patrol time and as much as $1.6 million in lost revenue.

The audit says the problems were the result of a shaky transition to a new data processing system that disrupted security alarm billings for 288 days.

As a result, from August 2009 to May 2010: (1) records of approximately 54,000 security alarm calls (including true, false, and cancelled alarms) were never processed from the Computer Aided Dispatch System (CAD) to SAP; (2) eligible false alarm fees (all panic alarms and more than three false burglar alarms per permit per year) were never billed; (3) when billing resumed false alarms were incorrectly billed at lower fee amounts; (4) the effectiveness of the false alarm fee as an incentive to permit holders to minimize false alarm calls was reduced; and, (5) the City experienced an estimated loss of $861,000 to $1.6 million from the unbilled or incorrectly billed false alarm fees.

Simultaneous issues with permit processing meant that Dallas PD couldn't tell which alarms didn't have permits, meaning they wound up responding to all of them. When auditors crunched the numbers, they found that officers had responded some 29,000 times to non-permitted alarms and that the city lost out on an additional $252,000 by failing to collect fees from those locations. There were also nine alarm permits issued to locations outside the city, where Dallas police aren't authorized -- or paid -- to respond.

Correcting these issues has been made more difficult by the fact that DPD doesn't record basic name-date-place information when it takes alarm calls. That accounts for most of DPD's share of the blame. The rest, according to auditors, falls on Dallas Water Utilities and the city's information technology department.

City staff responded to the audit last month by saying the estimated revenue losses were overblown and that the "most significant issues identified in the audit were remediated three (3) years ago."

In his report, City Auditor Craig Kinton says simply that these claims are "not accurate."

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson