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2 Investigators: Burglary Call Stalls At City’s 9-1-1 Center

Susan Sandberg's Chicago home was burglarized in September. (CBS)

Susan Sandberg’s Chicago home was burglarized in September. (CBS)

Dave Savini Dave Savini
Award-winning Chicago journalist Dave Savini serves as investigative...
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(CBS) — A Chicago home was burglarized, but the alarm went off a security company was able to contact the city’s 9-1-1 center.

What happened next has the homeowner outraged. She shared her story with CBS 2’s Dave Savini to warn other Chicagoans and business owners.

Susan Sandberg’s home was burglarized in September, during the middle of the day. Her burglar alarm system worked, but she says Chicago’s 9-1-1 center failed her.

“I just don’t feel safe in my home even with my alarm on,” Sandberg says.

She says the burglar-alarm monitoring agency repeatedly called the 9-1-1 center for help, only to be disconnected.  The security company representative kept getting a message, “Your party cannot be reached, please hang up and dial again,” before being disconnected.

Sandberg says the repeated delay meant the burglars had plenty of time to go through her home, take what they wanted and get away.

City officials say burglar alarm company operators do not actually dial 9-1-1. They dial a special seven-digit phone number set up for alarm companies. The calls still go into the 9-1-1 center, called the Chicago Office Of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC).

In Sandberg’s case, she says the monitoring company had to call 27 times before reaching an emergency operator.

“You get a false sense of security,” she says. “I called my alarm company to see why it happened, and they told me this is a chronic problem.”

Sandberg says it took 18 minutes before an operator ever answered and then another 18 minutes for police to show up at her house. More than 30 minutes passed before help arrived — plenty of time for the criminals to get away.

Sandberg gave CBS 2 e-mails indicating this problem has been going on for some time. They were written by her alarm monitoring company to city officials, including the head of OEMC.

The company e-mail said it monitors thousands of homes and businesses in Chicago and complains to the city it was taking 7 to 10 minutes to reach a live 9-1-1 operator and even took 40 minutes in one case.

The e-mails were written a week before the delayed handling of Sandberg’s alarm call.

Sandberg says the alarm is not just for protecting belongings in a home. It is supposed to trigger police response to protect homeowners.

“I could have been home and these intruders could have come in and raped me, killed me, beat me up,” Sandberg says.

OEMC officials say burglar alarm calls are not top priority — they are handled as “Priority 2” calls. An OEMC spokesman says every effort is made to process calls quickly and says the agency recently added resources to improve response times for calls to this phone line.

Sandberg says after her burglary, garages of neighboring homes were broken into. She has beefed up her security system and added cameras, too.