JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — Stunned by the sheriff department’s one-sided decision to adopt a verified response policy last year in Teton County, Wyo., the alarm community is working toward persuading the sheriff to reverse the rule in favor of Enhanced Call Verification (ECV).
Verified response was first enacted in mid-October and has been in effect daily between the hours of 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Visual or video verification is necessary before the sheriff will dispatch a deputy to a residence or commercial site during those hours.
“What is most disappointing to us was the unilateral decision by the sheriff,” says Stan Martin, executive director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC). “It is extremely unusual for a county sheriff to take a drastic action like that. They are elected officials and people have to vote for them unlike a chief of police.”
With a population of more than 18,000 residents in a 4,000-square-mile area, Teton County contains the affluent Jackson Hole skiing area, plus Grand Teton National Park and a large portion of Yellowstone National Park. The area’s rugged terrain, and the long distances deputies often travel to alarms, were main considerations for adopting the policy, according to Sgt. Tom Combs of the Teton County Sheriff Dept.
“We had probably 1,500 to 2,000 false alarms a year and 99.9 percent of them I am pretty comfortable saying were false,” Combs says. Mike Keegan, who operates Watchguard Security Systems in Jackson Hole, is spearheading the dialogue in hopes of educating the sheriff’s department on alternatives to verified response. Keegan recently made a presentation to the department’s shift commanders, providing an overview of how security systems work and the efforts made to prevent false dispatches.
“I have spent my whole career making sure we do everything we can do to eliminate false dispatches,” Keegan says. “They have been listening to me, which is hopeful. We have an open dialogue.”
SIAC and Keegan, along with two other alarm companies that operate in the county, would like the sheriff’s department to consider ECV. Here, the attempt is made to verify the alarm activation by making a minimum of two phone calls to two different numbers prior to dispatching law enforcement.
“Statistics show you can cut as many as 90 percent of dispatches by making the second call. I don’t mind making the second call; I just don’t want to have the ability to not send the police,” says Keegan.
Apathetic misuse of alarm systems has proven most confounding to the sheriff’s department, Combs says. The county’s population swells greatly during peak ski season and the summertime with property owners and renters who reside in the area for only a short while during the year.
“A lot of these folks have alarm systems because their insurance companies tell them they have to have one. Consequently, they don’t care about leaving their windows open, which causes motion detectors to set off. They don’t care to let contractors or renters or property mangers know their alarm codes,” Combs says.
For now the department says its verified response policy has significantly decreased the burden of traveling to false dispatches, which sometimes can mean be up to an hour of drive time.
“What we’ve put in place is working good for us right now,” says Combs. “But by no means are we turning up our nose and saying, ‘Hey, we’re not willing to sit down and work toward middle ground.’ ”