When a burglar bashed and smashed his way through two doors into a Wauwatosa Walgreen's store Saturday night, the electronic alarm system worked like a charm, but the human element did not.
Instead of what might have been a solid opportunity for police to catch a crook turned into an easy escape and five-hour head start for the burglar, when five minutes might have made the difference.
According to police reports:
At 7:32 a.m. Saturday, police were called to the Walgreen’s store at 10800 W. Capitol Dr. to investigate a break-in.
An assistant manager had just arrived and found the lower glass panels of both the outer and inner main entry doors smashed. When police arrived, they cleared the building and then checked the contents with the manager, and it appeared that at least three cartons of cigarettes had been stolen.
Officers also noted that while the outer door panel had shattered, the inner one had been struck five distinct, powerful blows before the whole thing failed and collapsed onto the floor in a piece.
Police found the alarm system still armed but with a message that said “alarm 33 zone 33,” indicating it had been triggered.
The assistant store manager called the alarm company and was told that, indeed, an alarm had been received. The company had called two keyholders for the business, she was told – neither of whom was her – and left messages that were not returned.
No one from the alarm company was sent to the store to check it out, and the police were not called.
Knowing the company claims to monitor live video feeds, an officer asked about that, but he was told "nothing was seen."
Police reviewed the video themselves and found it dark, grainy and lacking definition. However, at precisely 2:46:27 a.m., a figure in dark clothing is seen climbing over the customer counter and placing a hammer on it.
He rummages around behind the counter, then climbs back over carrying a white plastic bag thought to contain several cartons of cigarettes. He picks up the hammer and walks out of the field of view at 2:47:07.
No identifying features could be seen, and police had no evidence or suspects at the time their reports were filed.
While it appears the alarm company failed in several regards, it may be that Walgreen's security management bears some responsibility of its own for not knowing for nearly five hours that its store had been broken into.
During debates early beginning about a year ago on an annual permitting fee for alarm systems, requested by police, it was pointed out that:
- Customers sometimes decline to have private alarm companies notify police because of the number of false alarms generated. Even before the annual permit proposal (which passed), customers were billed for service by police for third and subsequent false alarm calls.
- Customers often fail to update "keyholder" information to their alarm company and police when personnel change over.
- Keyholders, who are supposed to be responsible for responding at any hour, cannot always be relied on to do so. If the alarm company is not supposed to call police and no keyholder picks up, it is up to the alarm company to decide whether to send a local representative to check the building. Because alarms are often false, they often don't.
In this case, the alarm system perhaps did one good service, if a passive one.
The burglar would likely and rightly have assumed an alarm was triggered with all that door-smashing and would have made it his business to get in and out as fast as possible – grabbing just a handful of the first valuable items he could reach and then fleeing, unaware that he could have had the run of the place and anything in it.