Fremont isn't known in government circles as a trend setter, but in 2005 its police department made headlines by becoming the state's first to stop responding to unverified burglar alarms.

The policy, implemented to free officers for other duties, has never been popular with residents, especially those who have alarms.

In 2006, Alan Stirling didn't get much traction by making the alarm policy a central issue in his failed City Council candidacy. But this year, Stirling is just one of several candidates who want to reconsider the policy.

Suzanne Chan recently issued a statement declaring she "will insist that our police respond to burglar alarms so that we can protect ourselves in the safety of our homes and our small businesses."

Chan softened her stance in a Wednesday interview, saying she'd like to revisit the policy "and see if there is some way we could get it reinstituted."

Council candidate Vinnie Bacon and mayoral candidate Steve Cho also would like to re-examine the policy.

When a burglar alarm goes off in Fremont, police officers don't respond until after the alarm company verifies it — whether through a video or audio feed, eyewitness account, or the alarm company hiring private security to check out the situation.

The cities of Modesto and Fontana have adopted similar policies, Fremont Police Chief Craig Steckler said. Several other cities have made responses lower priorities, so officers may not show up to a home for up to 48 hours.

When Steckler instituted the policy, he said Fremont was wasting nearly $600,000 a year responding to thousands of false alarms. Efforts to educate chronic false alarm violators weren't successful, and fining them didn't generate enough money to pay for the response, he said.

In 2004, more than 99 percent of the roughly 8,000 burglar alarm calls turned out to be false, Steckler said. A typical response involved two officers and took nearly a half-hour to fully inspect.

Under the new policy, officers respond to about 600 verified alarms a year, which frees them up to tackle more important issues, Steckler said.

According to FBI crime statistics, Fremont had 1,009 burglaries in 2005, 1,324 in 2006 and 1,292 in 2007. Steckler said burglaries have fluctuated throughout his 22 years in the department, and that the shifts aren't due to the alarm policy.

Responding to burglar alarms had been particularly burdensome for Fremont's police department, which has the lowest staffing ratio per capita in Alameda County.

The city of 210,000 has 177 sworn officers, Steckler said. Fremont has been seeking new recruits, but budget constraints will probably keep the department at no more than 188 officers this year.

Steckler instituted the alarm policy after layoffs reduced the number of sworn officers from 212 to 188. If the department can restore staffing to pre-layoff levels — a three- to five-year process — Steckler said he would revisit the alarm issue.

Several candidates support Fremont's alarm policy.

"The reality is you won't catch burglars by answering false alarms," said Mayor Bob Wasserman, a retired Fremont police chief, who is running for re-election.

One of his two challengers, former Mayor Gus Morrison, agreed, saying that alarm response required lots of manpower but got few results.

The third candidate for mayor, Steve Cho, wants police to respond to burglar alarms at least during times when the department has the resources to do it.

Among the council candidates, Bacon said the city shouldn't have a blanket policy of not responding to unverified burglar alarms, although he acknowledged changing it would require better funding the department.

Trisha Tahmasbi couldn't be reached for comment.

The lone incumbent in the council race, Bob Wieckowski, supports the current policy and doesn't see the election results altering it.

"We're not going to change the burglar alarm policy," he said. "It's the chief's recommendation. He's running his department. If he felt he needed to change the policy, he would do it."

Fremont reporter Matthew Artz can be reached at 510-353-7002 or martz@bayareanewsgroup.com. Read his blog posts at www.ibabuzz.com/tricitybeat.