Milwaukee Alarm Companies Cope With Verified Response

MILWAUKEE

Verified response is now a reality in Milwaukee with alarm companies in the city raising rates and warning of threats to public safety, and the city’s police chief remaining committed to the policy. As of Sept. 19, any burglar alarm going off in Milwaukee must be confirmed by a security guard or someone else hired by an alarm company before police will dispatch officers to the alarm.

Adding to the changes for alarm companies and their customers in Wisconsin’s largest city, Milwaukee’s Common Council passed 13-2 a measure Sept. 21 that would suspend or revoke the licenses of alarm companies that cannot prove they have the capability to confirm break-ins with the police. At the same time, the council blocked by the same 13-2 vote a measure that would have asked Milwaukee police to delay implementation of verified response while a task force looked at the false alarm problem. The rejected measure would have had little more than symbolic value, since only Milwaukee Police Chief Nannette Hegerty can delay or stop her previous decision to go to verified response.

That has left alarm company management like Able Security Systems President John Evans little choice but to pass along the cost of the new ordinance to his customers and also face their ire in return. To pay for private security guard service, Able has raised its monthly rate $10 for commercial customers and $5 for residential clients.

“We’re getting some angry feedback from customers for the added cost, but they’re not blaming us,” Evans told Security Sales & Integration. “They’re just angry with the situation and more importantly, concerned because they want police response more than guard response.”

Milwaukee is now the largest U.S. city to initiate a total verified response policy and first east of the Mississippi, joining cities like Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. Los Angeles made permanent a partial verified response policy on Sept. 21.

Alarm industry leaders in Milwaukee warn that the new policy will lead to a risk to public safety, and cite an incident that took place Sept. 19 in Kenosha, 40 miles to the south of Milwaukee. The owner of an auto body shop left his home just after midnight to confirm an alarm at his shop. While Kenosha doesn’t have a verified response policy, police had chided him after a false alarm a few days before. Two hours after checking on the alarm, Heinz Krause was found shot dead in his shop by his wife.

“This underscored our argument on public safety,” says Wisconsin Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (WBFAA) President Mike Horgan. “Responding to alarms is not as safe as anyone would lead you to believe. It’s better a trained officer respond to alarms than an unarmed security guard.”

Horgan had led efforts by the industry to fight the measure, taking time away from his alarm company, Horgan Sales & Service in Stevens Point, Wis., two-and-a-half hours away from Milwaukee. Despite verified response going into effect, Horgan says he hasn’t given up trying to stop it.

While Horgan says Hegerty hasn’t “moved an inch,” he is still holding meetings with the police chief and trying to offer higher false alarm fees as an alternative to verified response. He is also making headway in trying to get the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department to act as first responders to alarm calls. Horgan says the sheriff is still “crunching numbers” but has expressed interest.

“We don’t believe it’s dead yet,” Horgan says. “There’s still a chance we’ll be able to change it.”

Horgan says that while one of the few good things to come out of the new policy is the coming together of alarm companies in the Milwaukee area, he says alarm companies are partially at fault for their situation for not sustaining better relations with police.

“Our industry has been remiss in our relations with law enforcement. We hadn’t had any real communication with Milwaukee police in six to eight years,” Horgan says. “We have no one to blame for that but us.”

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