MILWAUKEE — Following a months-long effort by a task force charged with rewriting this city’s alarm ordinance, installing security contractors and city leaders are hailing sweeping changes made to the provision.
Once considered by the alarm industry to be among the nation’s most burdensome ordinances, new rules for the first time establish license classifications, training requirements, as well as exceptions to the police department’s verified response policy. At press time the revised ordinance was scheduled to be enacted on June 1.
“The Milwaukee alarm ordinance had not been changed since the mid-1980s. It was extremely outdated,” says Chris Utter, immediate past president of Wisconsin Electronic Security Association (WIESA). “It brings a whole new standard and a way of doing business that we haven’t had the opportunity for.”
Previously, for example, only a class C licensed electrician could legally install electronic security equipment. Although the city for years did not enforce the statute, few security dealers and integrators complied.
The new ordinance creates three license classifications: low voltage (LV); low-voltage burglary (LB); and low-voltage fire (LF). Installing technicians will also need to achieve National Training School (NTS) Certified Alarm Technician Level One accreditation or equivalent. Each installing contractor will also be expected to staff a certified NTS Advanced Burglar Alarm Technician (ABAT) or equivalent.
“We can now be licensed to do work in the city which before we couldn’t. We had to sub out to electricians or have an electrician on staff, which very few people did,” says Utter, former owner of Sentra Protective Systems and current vice president of sales for Magnasphere Corp., a provider of magnetic switch and magnetic sensor technology.
Why the city finally decided to overhaul its alarm ordinance stems from an avalanche of consumer complaints after out-of-state sales teams flooded the area during the summer two years ago. Confounded by an endless stream of grievances, a city alderman who was running for mayor decided to take action.
The idea was to convene representatives from various city departments and find a way to better regulate alarm systems sales. Yet the alarm industry was not initially invited to join in the work.
Bad blood between the industry and the city began to flow in 2004 when Milwaukee’s police chief instituted a verified or nonresponse policy to combat false dispatches. The industry fought the policy on a national level vociferously but to no avail.
“Milwaukee’s ordinance was completely unacceptable,” says Ron Walters, director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC). “It basically cut off police response for anybody with an alarm system unless a guard was sent to confirm.”
Soon the city began enforcing its licensing rule for the first time and dealers were indiscriminately being fined thousands of dollars. The relationship between the industry and the city remained contentious ever since, leading up to the formation of the task force.
Utter lobbied for a seat on the task force and would eventually gain an invitation to join. Ray Statis from the local ADT branch also was appointed. During the course of seven months and frequent meetings, Utter educated the seven-member task force about the alarm installing business.
“Chris brought in suggestions and ideas that we did not know anything about,” says Robert Puente, a city alderman who served as chair of the task force. “He opened our eyes to a world we had never seen before. That was very beneficial.”
With a common goal to strengthen the alarm ordinance to better protect consumers as well as provide a more equitable business environment for alarm contractors, Puente credits a willingness to compromise for the group’s eventual success.
“Everybody kept their ego at the door. It was a collaboration of all these people with all these different ideas with all this knowledge,” he says. “We proved you can have intergovernmental relationships with the private sector.”
Ending the police department’s verified response policy was never part of the deliberations. However, Utter’s work to educate task force members about monitoring technologies did result in significant exceptions to the policy.
Video verification and two-way voice systems are now listed under the prohibited systems section. A request for dispatch service may be accepted “based upon reproducible video or two-way voice intercom if the person is able to provide specific information based on personal observation to the operator,” according to language in the ordinance.
“Nobody on the task force got everything they wanted, but everybody is in agreement,” says Utter. “The best thing to come out of this is now we have totally open communication.”
Rodney Bosch is managing editor for SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION. He can be reached at (310) 533-2426.