Detroit Alarm Verification Policy Catches Industry Off-Guard

By Ashley Willis

DETROIT — Following the Detroit Police Department’s recent declaration that it would no longer respond to burglar alarms without verification of an actual break-in, the alarm industry is gearing up to contest the policy, which takes effect on Aug. 22.

“We were caught completely by surprise,” Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC) Executive Director Stan Martin tells SSI. “We were working with the folks at the highest levels in the department and they gave us no indication that they were moving in this direction.”

After reviewing calls for service, the department determined more than 98 percent of alarm calls it receives are false. Further review of that information showed that false alarms had the greatest financial and staffing impact on the department, according to a Detroit PD press release. As a result, the department will not respond to calls from alarm companies unless:

  • The alarm company sends someone to visually verify a crime has been committed
  • A property owner or employee responds to the location to visually verify a break-in
  • The occurrence of a break-in or crime is verified through use of audio or video technology
  • The alarm company reports multiple alarm trips from at least two sensors at the alarm site (i.e., a first alarm from a point of entry contact such as a door or window, followed by a second alarm from an interior point of protection, such as a motion detector)

With the initiative originally scheduled to take effect Aug. 15, the Burglar and Fire Alarm Association of Michigan (BFAAM) and SIAC officials heard about the policy two days prior to its planned implementation.

“We received notice at the close of business last Friday that this was going to take place,” Dean Belisle, president of BFAAM, tells SSI. “On Saturday, I realized that this would go in effect at 12:01 a.m., Sunday morning, before we had a chance to notify our dealers or customers.”

BFAAM has had a good working relationship with the department for the past 12 years, and has worked closely with Commander Todd Bettison on other false alarm issues for nearly a year. As a result, Belisle spent the entire weekend speaking with Bettison to push back the policy’s implementation date. However, the department ultimately settled on Aug. 22 to start the policy. Neither Martin nor Belisle believe this gives alarm companies enough time to prepare customers.

“A minimum of 30 days is what’s needed to make the transition,” Martin says. “Sixty days would be more reasonable, particularly if people decide they want upgrades. Of course, we also happen to believe that there is going to be a large portion of folks in Detroit that are already financially stressed and won’t have the resources to either change their system or pay for private security.”

For his part, Belisle thinks it will take roughly six to 12 months to fully comply with the transition.

“We don’t know how many alarms are out there,” he says. “So let’s say a company like ADT, the biggest player in the industry, hypothetically has 30,000 clients in Detroit. The question is how long will it take to go and visit 30,000 sites to spend with the client, review the current system, explain to them what their options are and get it installed? No company has the manpower to do that.”

In an attempt to persuade the department to delay the policy implementation, BFAAM is asking its member companies and their clients in the Detroit area to participate in a letter writing campaign to the mayor’s offices and city council. Since BFAAM and SIAC have collaborated successfully in the past with the Detroit PD — namely by implementing enhanced call verification (ECV) in 2010, reducing false alarms by nearly 35 percent — the organizations are striving to maintain good relations with police officials. However, Belisle notes that the recent policy hinders that partnership.

“With the changes the department has made, we’ve been stripped of our ability to help them,” he says. “We all know that police can’t be everywhere at all times. That’s why alarms are effective because they’re always on site when police can’t be. When you take police out of the equation, the effectiveness of alarms goes down significantly.”

Belisle and Martin express concern about the safety of Detroit citizens, noting that once the policy is implemented only about 1-percent of alarm owners will meet the new requirements. In effect, the remaining 99 percent will be “open prey” for criminals, says Belisle.

“From a technology standpoint, I think police are looking at this from the television show ‘C.S.I.,’” he says. “On that show, they can see through walls and around corners and everything else. We have good cameras, but we can’t do that, not in the real world.”

The Detroit PD maintains that the concerns by the alarm industry and citizens that crimes would increase because of the policy are unwarranted. “Data from cities requiring a verified response before dispatching officers shows no clear trend for an increase in burglaries after implementation,” according to a statement released by the department.

Additionally, the police officers will continue to respond to human activated alarms, including hold-up, panic or duress.

For more of Belisle’s thoughts on the policy, click here.

Ashley Willis is associate editor for SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION magazine. She can be reached at (310) 533-2419.

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