They’re Not Going to Take It Anymore!

There is a growing insurrection against the security industry by the law enforcement community. As was reported recently in Security Sales & Integration magazine (see “Keeping Your Guards Up” in the July 2002 issue), nearly 50 cities across the country have adopted or are considering the adoption of verified response policies (law enforcement responds only after an alarm has been visually verified by a third party, typically a private patrol operator). That number will likely grow exponentially in the months to come.

This burgeoning rebellion is not just about the plague of false alarms. The problem goes much deeper. The accuracy in which alarms are reported to the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) is just as important as whether or not the alarms are valid. Most law enforcement personnel believe the security industry does not care about its relationship with public safety agencies – or private patrol/ alarm responders for that matter. Also, some central stations are not doing their part to improve the situation.

Monitoring centers and security systems contractors should adopt policies that incorporate call verification, reasonably sized zones as well as zones that are defined in simple terms. Additionally, the security industry and law enforcement should work together to standardize the terminology used during dispatches.

Unusual Dispatch Requests Confuse Police

There is a wide range of local ordinances that dictate how alarm dispatch requests are handled. In some cities, an audible alarm has a lower priority than a silent alarm, and an intrusion alarm is less critical than a panic, duress or robbery alarm.

In what we in law enforcement perceive to be an effort to cast doubt as to the true nature of alarm dispatch requests, central stations have been using some very creative call types in hopes of spiking the interest of AHJs.

When police dispatchers receive cleverly named alarms like cellular fail, point-to-point and audible commercial panic alarms, the question, “What kind of an alarm is that?” will surely follow. Invariably, the central station operator will respond, “I don’t know,” and the chasm separating the factions on both sides of this issue grows ever wider.

Some Terminology Is Unclear or Misused

In 1998, the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) revised its glossary of terms (, which includes types of alarm systems. To no one’s surprise, most terms are familiar and have little chance of confusing anyone, but the list also includes vague expressions like manual burglar alarm, police call alarm, panic alarm and duress alarm.

What ever happened to good old burglary and robbery alarms? They didn’t make it on the CSAA glossary list either, but these are widely used – and misused – phrases. When people say, “My house got robbed last night,” they are probably referring to a burglary. Burglary is a crime against property. A robbery alarm, on the other hand, gets a different response because it often includes the use of a weapon and the suspect is usually more brazen than the typical burglar who wishes to avoid confrontations.

Curiously, the term takeover alarm did not make it into the glossary either. Why? It is used quite a bit on the West Coast.

According to the CSAA, a takeover is not an alarm at all. It is when one alarm user takes over an existing alarm from another user. So, when we as police are talking about a takeover alarm, that alarm is really classified as a duress alarm; although, when one looks at the CSAA glossary definitions, it could also be termed a panic alarm. (See a breakdown of the various terms used by different organizations).???

Consumers Confuse Manual Alarms With 9-1-1

By activating the manual alarm in lieu of calling 9-1-1, the AHJ has no chance to classify or prioritize the call. A user may get a faster response by punching the button, but what is more likely to happen is that the response will be delayed or improper (e.g. law enforcement, rather than paramedics, will respond to a heart attack) because it is deemed to be just another alarm call.

Many AHJs have instituted mandatory fines on all improper activations of manual alarms. Where I work, if police response to a manual alarm is considered false or not an emergency, the fines start at $158. Most AHJ first responders and dispatchers hate alarm calls because they are overwhelmingly either false, inaccurate or report an incident that does not rise to the level of a true emergency in progress.

It is generally assumed that a manually activated alarm denotes a crime against a person, while an automatic alarm is in response to a crime against property. Some jurisdictions prohibit the use of robbery alarms for anything other than a robbery – hence the name. A fight in the store parking lot does not constitute a robbery and the manual alarm should not be used. Once again, calling 9-1-1 is more appropriate.

9-1-1 dispatchers can interact with the caller, ascertain the circumstances of the incident, make sure the initial response is proper, and prepare officers en route with details, such as the number of persons involved and if weapons are being used. In contrast, a manually activated alarm call is a one-way communiqué to police that offers no information as to the true circumstances of the incident being reported.

Phone Verification Should Be a Standard Practice

These problems are compounded by the fact that not all central stations verify intrusion alarms before dispatching the police. We suspect that, in many cases, the first phone call made is to the AHJ, since about one in 10 alarm calls in Oxnard are canceled while the dispatched officer is still en route.

Then there was the nationwide central station that called to report an alarm after-hours. When asked if the alarm had been verified, the operator responded, “We do not verify alarms after closing,” apparently oblivious to the fact that if an alarm response is desired, verification is required.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) just passed a resolution calling for central stations to implement multiple call verification (see What is encouraging about this initiative is that the CSAA supports it. What is discouraging is that single-call verification is a foreign concept to more than just a few central stations.

Alarm Location Must Be Easily Determined

Here’s a scenario recently encountered by our police force. There were two schools in Oxnard that were every officer’s nightmare. Each school had only one zone cover the entire campus. Because of the large zone size, it took a team of officers 45 minutes to rattle each door and check every window on campus to determine the exact location of the alarm.

I know what you’re thinking. This is probably how the customers wanted it and the installers were just doing the jobs as instructed by the clients. You are probably right to a degree, but most law enforcement officers believe this is a convenient excuse many security contractors use to skirt responsibility for installing systems that can pinpoint alarms.

With the Oxnard schools, both the contractors and the clients believed that each of these single zone installations were strokes of genius! Not only were these the lowest bids, they kept the systems under budget, and – most importantly – won the installers the jobs.

Unfortunately, when it came to responding to alarms at these locations, it was and is the police who must struggle with the incomplete information provided by these kinds of systems. It is installations like these that alienate the typical street officer to the security industry as a whole.

Reasonably Sized Zones Make Police’s Job Easier

Alarm installers: I urge you to use more than one zone, and when you do, define them<

If you enjoyed this article and want to receive more valuable industry content like this, click here to sign up for our FREE digital newsletters!

Security Is Our Business, Too

For professionals who recommend, buy and install all types of electronic security equipment, a free subscription to Commercial Integrator + Security Sales & Integration is like having a consultant on call. You’ll find an ideal balance of technology and business coverage, with installation tips and techniques for products and updates on how to add to your bottom line.

A FREE subscription to the top resource for security and integration industry will prove to be invaluable.

Subscribe Today!

Get Our Newsletters