Q&A: How Detroit’s Alarm Verification Policy Affects Dealers, Customers

As I was checking SSI‘s Twitter account Monday evening, one tweet in particular caught my attention. It was from the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC) Executive Director Stan Martin, which read:

“An unprecedented move towards VERIFIED RESPONSE in Detroit. Read our blog at www.siacinc.wordpress.com.”

Intrigued, I clicked the link and read the blog, which said the Detroit Police Department had implemented a verified response policy without discussing it with its close alarm industry allies SIAC and the Burglar and Fire Alarm Association of Michigan (BFAAM). I immediately dialed up Martin to schedule an interview, which led me to BFAAM President Dean Belisle, who is also vice president of Clinton Township, Mich.-based Act Now Alarm.

I have already seen several tweets by other alarm companies that are thrilled with the new policy, stating that verified response is the next wave in the security industry. Of course, those companies are based outside of the Detroit area, and have little information on how the initiative took effect. In the following Q&A, Belisle explains what Detroit’s alarm verification policy really means for the industry and loyal customers.

What are the main aspects of the alarm verification policy?

Dean Belisle: The department put in their document that they are requesting that the responding person, whether it’s a representative of the homeowner or business owner, stay on site at a safe distance and wait for police to arrive. That defies anything we’ve ever seen from a police department!

Also, if we can’t verify the alarm with a live person, we should be able to verify by electronic means, which means either two-way voice listen-in or use of a camera that we can see remotely. Then they have this two-zone verification, and their two zones are very specific. If it’s a one interior zone and a one perimeter zone going off, then we can dispatch based on that. But the hurdle we’ve got is that none of these are in place right now.

When you look at it, the two zones seem like it’s probably straightforward, but if they break into a bedroom window, and they take what they want and leave through the bedroom window, there will be no second zone to trip. The two-way voice is the same thing: it’s not heavily initiated right now, so it’s not out there to use. Some of the hurdles you have is that in the home, where it was really designed for, if we have a 10,000- , 20,000- or 50,000-square-foot building, audio won’t work. There aren’t enough microphones that we can put in on these systems, so the technology isn’t there for what they’re asking.

Cameras have the same issue. There are really no triggers right now in the camera industry to allow it to come into our software platform, so monitoring it is not as straightforward as it would seem.

So effective Monday when they implement this, 99 percent of all alarms will not have the ability to dispatch on them.

What does this mean for the partnership between the alarm industry and the Detroit PD?

DB: It’s really in the hands of the police department, the city council and the mayor’s office. We certainly will not pull back. We’re an active participant in the industry, so whatever they need from us and whatever cooperation that we can provide, we will certainly be there.

One important point to mention is the city council is working on an alarm ordinance right now, which is separate from this policy. This initiative came out of the Detroit Police Department. It was a procedural change in how they do things. No one was involved in this, including security companies and the citizens of Detroit. That’s why it was able to happen in the fashion and speed that it did. None of us had any opportunity to input or discuss the impact that this has on the citizens.

At this point, the city has taken the other approach and they’ve shut us out. So for 10 months, we’ve been in a very close relationship working on ECV, and when this comes along, we are shut off from the table and we’re just given a directive at the last minute. The question is really for the city. How do they want to work with us going forward?

Describe your relationship with the Detroit Police Department prior to the new policy changes.

DB: We’ve actually had a relationship with them for probably the better part of the last 12 years for different projects on and off. For the last 10 months, I’ve represented BFAAM and Glen Mowrey has represented SIAC in the same effort.

We helped them roll out enhanced call verification (ECV) in December 2010. Our target was a 25-percent reduction in alarm calls overall, but we hit 29 percent in the first month. Throughout the six-month evaluation period, we were pushing 35 percent. So we’ve had a very good relationship all the way through this process. I’ve been keeping in contact with the commander. We speak usually once or twice a week.

So this initiative was a shock since you speak with him on a regular basis?

DB: Absolutely.

How successful have the efforts been to get the department to push back the implementation date?

DB: We’ve had limited success. We received the notice at close of business Friday [Aug. 12]. It was Saturday afternoon before I really knew what we had up against us because at 12:01 a.m., Sunday [Aug. 14] morning this would go into effect before we had the chance to notify our dealers and customers. So I spoke to Commander Todd Bettison all weekend trying to get him to iron things out. So he moved it back to 4 p.m. on Monday [Aug. 15], giving us a chance to get the notification out throughout the day. Then we were successful in getting them to move it back to Aug. 22.

But to really comply with the ordinance, six to 12 months is more of a realistic time window. In that time, we can get the clients the technology that they need.

How did you get the information to your dealers?

DB: We’ve got about 130 members, so we used E-mail initially due to speed. The E-mail told them what’s happening and the timelines. There will be a hard copy that will be mailed out this week as well. As a follow up, we’ll go back and give them the details about the setback for next week, the requirements will be attached to it so they can actually see what’s in the procedures, and there will be a copy to the letter that they can send to their clients.

What can alarm companies do to help push back the policy? Are there any other groups that BFAAM and SIAC are working with on this matter?

DB: We’re trying to handle this delicately in a sense that we don’t want to come off negative toward the mayor or the police department. We want to keep a professional cooperation level with them, so we’re being very careful there. We’re asking members in our associations in the Detroit Metro area and our clients, the citizens of Detroit, to make phone calls and write letters to the mayor’s office, police department and city council.

At this point, we’re working with SIAC. We&#82
17;re reaching out to the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police [MACP]. We’re also reaching out to the Electronic Security Association [ESA] and the Central Station Alarm Association [CSAA]. SIAC is aligned with those two, so in effect, we already have their support, but we don’t have a position statement from them right now.


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