FLINT, Mich. — The Burglar and Fire Alarm Association of Michigan (BFAAM) and the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC) are contesting a policy here that bills alarm companies for false alarms instead of the consumer.
“We’re not looking for confrontation,” SIAC Executive Director Stan Martin tells SSI. “Simply stated, passing customer fines to the alarm dealers is not an acceptable approach for the industry, nor is it beneficial in addressing the community issues associated with alarm management.”
As part of the Home Rules City Act (HRCA), the city has sent more than 1,600 invoices to alarm companies from August to December, totaling $133,930. The city charges $79 for each false alarm, according to Jason Lorenz, public information officer for the city of Flint. So far, alarm companies have not paid any of the fines.
BFAAM Director Karen Majeske tells SSI that the group was surprised when HRCA took effect in August. Officials told the organization that the law received approval in the late 1990s; however, it was not enforced. In December, the association wrote a letter to city officials requesting that the city cease enforcing the Act until further discussions take place to resolve the issue. The city has complied with the request, although Lorenz notes that since the enactment of HRCA, false alarms have dropped significantly.
“The cost in time spent by our officers responding to false alarms is an additional cost to our citizens’ safety,” he tells SSI. “That should not be overlooked. Since the fee implementation, false alarms in the city have gone down by 75%.”
Neither BFAAM nor SIAC are insensitive to the city’s plight, as both groups recognize that law enforcement agencies must contend with slashed budgets and the mandate to do more with less.
“When we originally asked for a meeting with the police captain, he politely explained why they had to put this through,” Majeske says. “The fact is they just don’t have the manpower to respond to these unless they have compensation for the ones causing the false alarms.”
Realizing this, both BFAAM and SIAC plan to work diligently with city officials to settle the matter in a way that works for all involved. During one meeting with Flint representatives, SIAC’s Glen Mowrey proposed implementing the organization’s national model alarm ordinance. It includes enhanced call verification (ECV), which involves calling additional contact numbers prior to requesting a police dispatch.
On March 18, the two groups will meet with city officials to decide whether to employ the ordinance.
“They have been very accommodating in meeting with us and reviewing what BFAAM recommends,” Majeske says. “We feel really confident that we will be able to reach an ordinance that everyone will find agreeable.”
Majeske, who serves as general manager for Southfield, Mich.-based Guardian Alarm, says it’s incumbent upon alarm companies to educate customers on what they can do to help curb false alarms. For example, Guardian Alarm tracks customers that cause more than two false alarms within a 90-day period. If the problem stems from user error, company representatives discuss solutions with clients, such as extending the intrusion alarm’s delay zone.
Martin, who notes that it is very likely that other municipalities will try to enact a similar policy as Flint, points out it’s also imperative to educate public safety officials on false alarms as well. “The best way to make alarm dispatches a non-issue is by educating our public safety partners on what works based on proven best practices,” he says.
Majeske agrees and comments that it’s best for alarm companies and associations to build a good relationship with law enforcement officials.
“What we’ve learned from this is that we need to be in contact more with local police departments,” she says. “We need to let them know about our organization and try to open the doors for conversation before a situation like this happens. We weren’t aware of it and suddenly we just started getting invoices.”
Ashley Willis is associate editor for SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION magazine. She can be reached at (310) 533-2419.