Verified Response Issue Takes the Heat in Seattle

SEATTLE—Along with several other cities in Washington state, Seattle is considering the adoption of a verified response, or no-response policy, similar to ordinances passed by Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Beverly Hills, Calif.

Verified response dictates that police officers do not respond to an alarm until someone else—a resident, neighbor or security guard—first verifies it is valid, and then calls 911. Police continue to automatically respond only to silent panic or duress alarms triggered by users.

“We’re totally against it,” says Howard Richardson, president of the Washington Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (WBFAA). “If burglars know that the police department is not going to respond, it’s open book for them to do their thing.”

According to Kathleen Schrauffnagel, chair of the False Alarm Committee for the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA), the policies implemented by Salt Lake City and Las Vegas have resulted in an average increase of $5 per monitored account per month. The added expense is usually passed on to the consumer.

However, Shanna Werner, alarm coordinator for the Salt Lake City Police Department, indicates that, as a result of Salt Lake’s new verified response policy, response times to legitimate alarms have reduced drastically.

According to Werner, under the new policy, it takes a security guard four minutes to 15 minutes to respond to an alarm. Once the alarm is verified, the call is determined to be high priority, and police take three to five minutes to respond.

“So you can see that compared to the old way, where response times were 45 minutes to three hours, they [customers] are getting a lot faster service,” says Werner.

One option being considered by Seattle is a variation of the verified response ordinances employed by Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. This approach would only apply to habitual false alarm offenders.

It has received a much warmer reaction from industry members because it would only require alarm verification from those users who cannot or will not reduce false alarms emanating from their property.

Members of the security industry, including the WBFAA and NBFAA, are hopeful they can engage in a dialog with the city of Seattle and its police department to help refine and implement whatever ordinance may be adopted. Members are, however, concerned by the recent lack of communication by the city and its police with the security industry on this matter.

Historically, Seattle’s municipal government and its police department have been very cooperative with the security industry associations. In 1997 and 1998, the city participated in the Model States program, resulting in a 9-percent reduction in false alarms. However, the municipality’s spirit of cooperation appears to be fading.

Under Seattle’s existing ordinance, adopted in September 1993, security system owners can be fined $50 for each false alarm. After a sixth violation, police no longer respond and can order that the alarm be disconnected.

A decision on Seattle’s new verified response or nonresponse policy is expected to be made some time in 2002.

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