Searching for the Cure to Verified Response
First it was Las Vegas, then Salt Lake City, and now Los Angeles. Like a virus, verified response – the requirement that an alarm be physically confirmed prior to police dispatch – is spreading to other communities across the country.
The alarm industry would like to eradicate this plague, but what is the proper antidote? The industry cannot expect to cure the verified response epidemic unless alternative treatments are brought to the table to remedy law enforcement’s false alarm fever.
For the moment, let us forget the faceless “security industry.” What can you – as a local dealer – do to stave off the growth of verified response in your own backyard? For starters, try acknowledging the problem, understanding local policies, getting involved and offering sensible solutions.
You Can’t Get Anywhere Unless You Acknowledge the Problem
If local law enforcement is expected to respond to privately owned alarms, then false alarms are a problem, whether they realize it or not. On average, 10 percent to 25 percent of all calls for police service are alarm-related and 94 percent to 98 percent of those calls are unnecessary.
With roughly 40 million alarm calls per year, no department in America is left unscathed. This is not the time to let sleeping dogs lie.
Some agencies do not track calls for service types and may not realize there is a problem until the chief or sheriff picks up a newspaper and reads about Los Angeles’ new verified response model. Then, a quick check of the statistical data may trigger a knee-jerk reaction that results in a similar solution to the alarm problem, which you probably will not like, being applied locally.
Know the Playing Field by Understanding Local Policies
Does your local jurisdiction have a false alarm reduction program in place? Are all alarm users held accountable or just commercial accounts? What is the fine structure? Can police response be suspended or revoked for excessive false alarms or nonpayment of fines? Are alarm permits required? Is there a specific person or unit that coordinates the program?
If you are installing systems, then you must know what the law is in each jurisdiction you serve. Discuss permit requirements and the potential repercussions of unwarranted alarms with prospective clients.
Model Ordinance Is Among the Possible Solutions
Don’t breathe a sigh of relief when you find out your local police department does not have an alarm ordinance or that the current policy is ineffective, not enforced, or only tracks a certain segment of your customers. This could very well be a worse-case scenario.
To go from no alarm ordinance to verified response is a huge – but very easy – leap to make, especially when the chief realizes the scope of the local false alarm problem. This may sound odd, but it may be worth your time to meet with law enforcement leaders in your area to discuss solutions to a problem that they might not know even exists.
Propose solutions starting with the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association/False Alarm Reduction Association (NBFAA/FARA) Model Burglar Alarm Ordinance, available on the FARA Web site (www.faraonline.org) or on the NBFAA site (www.alarm.org).
FARA President Norma Beaubien points out, “The Model [Ordinance] is a comprehensive package that requires, among other things, multiple-call verification prior to requesting dispatch; cancellation once it is determined that a signal is false; escalating fees, fines and penalties for false alarms; education; and inspections. We are very proud of our joint effort with the alarm industry and know the Model contains successful components as numerous jurisdictions are using it as a guide to enact their own ordinances.”
Don’t Wait for Law Enforcement to Contact You; Make the Move
Become involved. Without becoming part of the solution, your company is likely part of the problem. Without some specific action on your part, verified response may be coming to a municipality near you.
“We believe that false alarm reduction programs are a good thing,” says Vince Nigro, director of the Southern California Security Association (SCSA). “Our association is very active in the false alarm arena. We attend many law enforcement-related functions every year and offer our services to any department in the region that wants to start a false alarm school of its own.”
Beaubien offered advice at a recent meeting of the New Jersey Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (NJBFA): “I told them they could be heroes if they would just do a little proactive intervention. The more alarm companies do without having to be told, the better off they will be and the better off law enforcement will be.
“The reception may not be warm and fuzzy to begin with, and their efforts have to be genuine, but law enforcement would come around. If they don’t extend the olive branch, some jurisdictions will look at verified response without a backward glance.”
Share the Burden; Ensure Steps Do What They’re Supposed to Do
While some law enforcement agencies have no alarm reduction program in place, many have enacted local ordinances and tried the customary approaches to reduce the burden of false alarms to no avail. Such is the story of a highly visible jurisdiction in Utah.
Salt Lake City first implemented an alarm ordinance in 1981 and strengthened the provisions in 1994 in response to information gleaned from the Model States project, a highly touted study of false alarm reduction programs conducted by the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation (AIREF).
Five years prior to moving to verified response, monthly meetings were held with alarm companies and local law enforcement in an attempt to find a solution to the false alarm problem.
“After two years of meetings, it became very apparent to me that the industry took very little responsibility for the problem,” says Shanna Werner, false alarm coordinator for the Salt Lake City Police Department. “What amazes me is that after two years of our verified response ordinance was enacted, there is a national alarm dealer that still promises potential customers in Salt Lake City that the police are the first responders to burglar alarms. This is the mentality of an industry that is in complete denial about the reality of false alarms.”
Werner also notes that typical false alarm reduction programs are labor-intensive and require one or more police personnel dedicated solely to the permitting, tracking and billing process. Conversely, verified response is not, making it a very intriguing option to law enforcement.
Innovative Methods, Like Dual-Zone Alarms, May Be in Order
With no alarm ordinance at one end of the false alarm prevention spectrum and verified response at the other, some police agencies find themselves in the middle and in the same situation as Salt Lake City. After years of supporting conventional alarm ordinance models, results have been less than expected.
The alarm industry must be prepared to offer some innovative approaches to combat the rising revolt against alarm response.
“I personally believe that dual-zone trip alarms may be a viable alternative to verified response,” adds Nigro. Different from cross-zoning, which requires two independent detectors covering the same area to initiate an alarm, dual-zone trips require the activation of separate sensors covering different areas.
While this approach may be innovative in the States, requiring two independent detector activations to generate a “confirmed alarm” is the backbone of England’s British Standards False Alarm Initiative DD243 (see sidebar on page 54).
Multiple-Call Verification Might Not Be All It’s Cracked Up to Be
In a recent letter to the editor of another industry periodical, a central station manager questioned the effectiveness of the multiple-call verification p
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