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Home  >  Topics  >  Officer Safety

July 19, 2012
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Lt. Dan Marcou Blue Knights
with Lt. Dan Marcou

Don't fall prey to 'False Alarm Syndrome'

No matter how many times you respond to a particular alarm you must try to conjure up the sense that this is the real thing this time

A number of years ago, some young officers surrounded a tavern in the early morning hours where a burglary alarm was sounding. An older officer arrived on the scene and belittled these younger officers for their hyper-caution proclaiming, “Come on guys, this is the third time this week this alarm has gone off.”

To the young officer’s dismay, the older officer walked passed them swung open the door the officers had found unlocked and entered the bar. With incredible nonchalance, the old cynic sang out, “Come out, come out, wherever you are.” 

When the older officer made his grand yet ridiculous entrance he was suffering from an affliction which could be called, “False Alarm Syndrome.” The affliction was life threatening for this officer and the other officers at the scene, because unbeknownst to him, two suspects wanted for attempted murder of a corrections officer who had escaped from jail in another state were concealed inside that bar.

Treat it Like It’s Real
There is some good news and bad news to report. The bad news is this was an actual occurrence and the good news is, the younger officers resisted the pressure to drop their guard and safely apprehended the suspects in spite of, not because of the walking bad example that was dispatched to assist them.

Every hour of every day police officers in this country respond to robbery alarms, bank alarms, burglary alarms and panic alarms. Many of these alarms turn out to be false. The reasons for the false alarms are many and varied from employee error to weather. Sometimes, however they are a result of suspects testing the police response.

The fact is false alarms occur often enough to lead to the dangerous malady, False Alarm Syndrome. This develops gradually when officers answer so many false alarms they begin to respond to them as if all alarms are false until they come across some tangible proof to the contrary.  When officers respond to alarms as if they are false they relinquish the tactical advantage a silent alarm gives them.

You can identify someone, who may be experiencing an onset of that syndrome when after the alarm call goes out you hear a beat partner transmit sarcastically, “Again? This is the third time this week.”

They may even wave off backup.

Don’t become that officer. That transmission may set the tone for the response, which causes other officers to slip into a low intensity funk and also begin to respond to a “False alarm.”

You see, False Alarm Syndrome is contagious.

Someone needs to inoculate everyone involved in this response by transmitting, “Okay. Thanks for the information, but let’s treat this one like it is real. Let’s all go home tonight.” This mind-check is necessary, because it’s a sad fact that officers have been killed after arriving at the scene of what was thought to be “another false alarm.”

By the way, drive smart and wear your seat belt. Arrive alive at all alarms, because many officers have also died while driving to alarms.

Be Alarmed — No matter how many times you respond to a particular alarm you must try to conjure up the sense that this is the real thing this time! After all they are sending you to an “alarm,” so be alarmed!

Not running around in circles screaming, “The sky is falling!” alarmed. Just respond as if the call is real, because it is until you prove otherwise.

Rehearsals — Any business that is alarmed either already has been targeted, or is odds on favorite to eventually become one. Therefore each call you go to that turns out to be a false alarm is at the very least a valuable dress rehearsal for the real thing. Once you determine the alarm to be unfounded take the time to check the layout of the business. Identify problem areas and natural hiding areas for suspects in the event of the real thing.

Determine where the entrance and exit points for the suspects would be. Ask and answer:

Where will they park their car?
What direction will they flee with in a vehicle…on foot?
Where is the best location for a responding squad to approach from, to see without being seen?
Where is cover located from every vantage point?

Honestly evaluate the noise discipline of your approach and dismount. Assess the smoothness of the draw of your long gun and the ease at which you returned it to squad ready and remounted the weapon.

You do take a long gun out on all alarm calls, don’t you? If not, please do.

The Burglary Alarm — After clearing a building on a burglary alarm and you discover it to be false, conduct a second search. Many suspects have been found after a second search.  Here is a motto to consider. ”Anything and anybody worth searching once is worth searching twice.”

Be the Surprises-er, Not The Surprise-ee
In law enforcement it is always best to be the surprise-er rather than the surprise-ee. In the case of an alarm call, the responding officers who have inoculated themselves against False Alarm Syndrome are surprised, when they discover an alarm to be false, not, when they discover it to be real.

Eventually the tactics used that this mind-set inspires will place them in a position of advantage and cause suspects to be alarmed!


About the author

Lt. Dan Marcou retired as a highly decorated police lieutenant and SWAT Commander with 33 years of full time law enforcement experience. He is a nationally recognized police trainer in many police disciplines and is a Master Trainer in the State of Wisconsin. He has authored three novels The Calling: The Making of a Veteran Cop , S.W.A.T. Blue Knights in Black Armor, and Nobody's Heroes are all available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com. Visit his website and contact Dan Marcou





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