False Alarms

The hardest part of this story was getting the data.

The WPD gets a big high 5 for handing it over the fastest. They also figured out how many hours those alarms equate  to (41,664 hours) and about how much money they cost each year ($572,308).

But remember THIS: those numbers are based on ONE officer responding. The WPD says that most calls…especially if it’s a bank alarm…require more than one officer. In some cases…they send out the chopper and the dogs ( = $$$$$).

Costs really start to add up when they respond to the same location multiple times in one night. Captain Williamson says that sometimes, after a few calls, they can’t even get the owner to come out and shut off the alarm…even though its THEIR responsibility.

I asked the WPD for names…who are the “worst offenders”…whose business or residence do you have to go to multiple times a night, or multiple times throughout the week? I wanted to ask those people why they can’t better maintain their alarms…and do they feel any responsibility for wasting resources? Unfortunately, the WPD says that they can’t provide any names…due to how their data system operates. That was frustrating but deadline came before I was able to pursue it further. After the ordinance comes out next spring, if there are still “worst offenders” for false alarms…I’ll be pressing for a list of names and addresses.

Each year, the number of false alarms in the city keeps going up. Captain Williamson says that’s likely because of the growth our city has seen (i.e. annexation). Still, if you own an alarm system…its your responsibility and that means making sure everyone in your family knows how to arm and un-arm the system, notifying your alarm company if you will be testing it, educating ALL of your employees about your company’s device and making sure that deliveries are made in a way that does not accidentally trigger the alarm (oh…and STOP BURNING THE POPCORN!).

The purpose of the ordinance is to cut down on these high false alarm rates by penalizing repeat offenders. However, I’ve heard mixed reviews from both city and county staff as to whether or not it will actually come to fruition. Apparently they’ve been working on this ordinance for 3 years. The WPD says that it’s now on their lawyer’s desk and with approval from City Council…it will soon be in effect.

Here are more of the figures:

From the New Hanover County Sherriff’s Office

  2005 2006 2007 2008
Total  Alarm Calls 4545 4586 4278 5059
Total Reports 39 30 26 30
False Alarms 4506 4556 4252 5029
Percentage False 99.14191 99.34584 99.39224 99.407

From the Wilmington Fire Department:

38,642 total alarms in the past 4 years…5,705 false alarms. That means that 14.7% are considered false. OF THOSE….there are two types of alarms: manual (you pull the red trigger on the wall) and automatic (hanging in your ceiling and set off without your control). When its an AUTOMATIC alarm….96% of the time it’s false.

The WFD says it’s very difficult to estimate how much those false calls are costing them because different trucks go to different calls and its hard to estimate fuel and maintenance costs on those trucks. Whatever the case…we’ve all seen a fire truck…its NOT cheap to get it out of the driveway.

The WFD already has an ordinance that fines for false alarms but this new one is a joint project with the WPD. There is a very interesting follow-up I have for this piece…but I can’t tell you about it now…because I am OUT.THE.DOOR to Africa tomorrow!

See you in December.




False Alarms…TONIGHT

“False Alarms” will air tonight at 11pm on WECT and again tomorrow on CIM. This will likely be my last investigative report this year…I’m leaving tomorrow for Africa and will be gone until mid-December.

I asked both city and county public safety offices for data on how many false alarms their teams respond to each year. The WPD gets a big pat on the back for giving me data from the last FOUR years.

I don’t like it when newscasts tell their viewers that something will “surprise” them (the phrase tends to be overused)…but I was genuinely surprised to see these figures. 99% of all alarm calls the WPD goes on are false alarms.

We looked into how much they’re costing public safety departments and ultimately, *you*, the tax payer. We also found that it’s not just the WPD that’s affected by false alarms.

I hope this story draws attention to an issue that drains money from our county and city public safety budgets each year. This is something that alarm owners can change with a little more personal responsibility and accountability.

I may not be around after this story airs to field responses and emails from this story…I will be stuck on a plane for 24 hours. But you are always welcome to shoot me an email (croman@wect.com) or leave a comment here and I will do my best to find a computer out in the African wilderness!

A Break In The Levy





















These are the images sent to me by a viewer who was out behind the ports fishing yesterday. He says there is a ‘dredging pond’ there where the sediment brought up from the bottom of the Cape Fear River is held. Well…that’s where it USED to be held because it looks like all that muck has flown right back into the river.

The “State of the Ports” is being held today so I hope we’ll be looking into this. If you have any extra information…please get in touch!

Carolina Beach Drowing: October 10th

A friend told me to take a look at an ad posted on craigslist.com: Witness To Drowning. This is the second time I’ve seen someone in our community reach out for help on this website….someone who feels like public safety officials have not done enough to investigate. This could be something we see more of in the future…people taking crime solving into their own hands, doing their own research?

Her name is Cindy Marshall and her father, John David Midgett, drowned on Saturday October 10th in Carolina Beach. We did not cover this. Probably because we have only 1 weekend reporter and again, we only find out about things if people call the station and report them.

Cindy is looking for anyone who can help her find more information about what happened that morning, she’s looking for closure and says she’s not getting what she needs from local public safety officials. She also lives in Florida know which compounds her ability to make much headway here.

She says her father and his friend were boating near the 1st set of  buoys in the Carolina Beach inlet when a large wave hit the boat and knocked them overboard. Apparently, 2 jet skiers responded and another boat assisted by calling out a Mayday. The boat loaded her father onboard and brought him to the boat ramp.

She says that a deputy came and loaded her father into the bed of his truck (I guess this is what witness told her…) and took him to a location off-site to be picked up by an ambulance. She says that emergency vehicles never came to the scene to try to revive him but says that witnesses told her he had a pulse and was murmuring when they pulled him to shore.

She says her father was in good health and only had an issue with arthritis in his shoulder.

She says she’s concerned over a lack of formal investigation into what happened that day and says that someone has “dropped the ball.” She also says her family was never notified by officials. They heard it through a family friend.

The boat that brought him to shore was called the “Fish Bucket”…ever heard of it? Maybe you know the names of the jet skiers?

I’m going to try to find the police report and see what information the Coast Guard and Carolina Beach police may have. In the meantime, she’s hoping that someone can offer her more information about what happened that day.

Send me an email: croman@wect.com.

Talking About Movies…And Race?

Fran pitched yesterday’s story about Sadie Winfrey, the Wilmington woman who was upset about the lack of showtime for movies with black producers (specifically: “Good Hair,” Chris Rock; “Precious,” Oprah Winfrey). This story did not get approval because she was bring up a question about racism…it got approval because of the questions it generated during our morning meeting: “How do our movie theaters select what’s shown?” “Why do some films (even ones that bomb…) get 4 screens while others are never shown?”

Admittedly, we couldn’t answer either of those questions, which is why I spent yesterday trying to find out.

The general manager at Mayfair Cinema explained that both “Precious” and “Good Hair” are limited release films. They are first shown in the big cities.  If they meet a certain revenue expectation (he did not say how much), they are released nation-wide.

I asked him how film distributors (Disney, Paramount, Warner Bros., etc.) decide which films get limited release? He said he didn’t know (in his defense…these decisions are handled by corporate movie theater booking agents and are conversations he is probably NOT privy to).

If you look at the demographics of movie-goers…you might be able to hypothesize why. According to Medialifemagazine.com, 70% of the people who go to the movies are adults between 18-49 years old. The median age is 32. Females make up 54% of the audience.

A research article published in the Journal of Media Psychology titled “Favorite Films and Films Genres As A Function of Race, Age, and Gender” concludes that “Whites show a rather overwhelming partiality for White-congurent movies. Indeed, only seven movies (3%) were cited which dealt with interracial themes.” They also say that “relatively few Black films are released (approximately 10% of all films after 1970), the race congruence preferences of Blacks is exceptionally strong, in fact dramatically disproportionate to that for Whites.”

In so many words…the majority of people who go to see films are adult, educated women…and of those seated in the theater…they prefer to see movies with actors and a production team that are of the same race. ( Film Preferences.)

Film distributors are like any private enterprise…they seek profits. If these are the statistics they follow, it may be reasonable to hypothesize that they will try to produce…and promote…movies that are going to be agreeable to the majority of their demographic. Perhaps they feel that a film about african american hair…will not be a big hit with the masses…its one guess for the limited release decision.

The GM at Mayfair says that corporate booking agents are looking for films with big names. That could be the reason why romatic comedies with popular stars are highly promoted (again…even if they bomb), whereas films with new faces (i.e. Precious) are more to prove.

Sadie seemed most upset that there was a group of people in a corporate office somewhere deciding what her community got to see.

I asked the GM at Mayfair how a community could voice their interest in a particular film if they wanted it shown locally. He didn’t have a definitive answer but he did say that some movies are now being released along with a website where you can vote to have it shown in your hometown (i.e. Paranormal Activity). Well…that’s news to me?!

Last night, Fran received a rather acidic email from a man pontificating that he felt that the story accused and “convicted” him of being racist. That is FAR from the point of the story and, quite frankly, if we can’t occasionally open up dialogue about how people in our community feel about these questions…we aren’t going to get very far.

Whether you agree with the film gods who decided to hold back on this film …or whether you think the decision is racially motivated or not…that is your opinion…and should be respected. The bigger picture here is HOW media is delivered to you…who decides…why do they make those decisions…and how does that affect our social dynamic?

If you DO want to see “Precious” you can catch it at the Cucalorous film festival this week. I asked the GM at Mayfair if both “Hair” and “Precious” would ever make it to our theaters…he didn’t know.

3 Hours Of Un-Edited Yankee…

If you tune in tomorrow to 107.5 from 6 am to 9am…you’ll have the unfortunate opportunity of hearing Foz and I argue and banter. Its not very often that they allow me to appear somewhere..unedited..(probably for good reason…), so here’s your chance.

I’m not sure what Foz has in store but I bet there will be some discussion of whats going on around town. Is there anything in particular you’d like to hear more about??

Beef Recall: Food Lion

This will be on tonight…but lucky you if you are reading this now…before dinner.

The Food Lion’s in our area have issued a recall of their 93/7 low fat ground beef. They were notified Monday afternoon (11/2) by Fairbank Farms, their supplier. The recall applies to stores in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. 

Check your freezer/fridge…look for the Food Lion label (it came from Fairbanks but was packaged as “Food Lion” brand). If the “Sell By” date is between Sept. 21 through Oct. 8…RETURN IT and you’ll get your money back.

The media rep at Food Lion told me that the beef on the shelves now is O.K.. She also told me that there would be no interviews and I could not go inside the store to get video (shocking). When I asked her WHY the beef was being recalled…she told me to call Fairbanks. Fairbanks just returned my call…but they did not answer my questions and said they would call me later…

According to Fairbank’s website…they’re asking customer’s to “check their freezer.”

They say they recalled about 545,699 pounds of fresh ground beef on October 31. THAT recall has the product “Sell By” date of Sept. 14 through Sept. 16, 2009 (so…were there two recalls?). They say that beef is possibly linked to E.coli O157:H7 .

In an effort to gross you out more….Escherichia coli O157:H7 is an enterohemorrhagic strain of the bacterium Escherichia coli. It causes bloody diarrhea and possibly kidney failure. 

We first heard about this outbreak in New England where lawsuits are reportedly being filed against this Fairbank Farms.

I’ll let you know what Fairbanks says….