Albuquerque to spend $18,000 on private alarm response

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—The City of Albuquerque has agreed to participate in a test program that will pay a private response company, Armed Response Team—comprising retired members of the Albuquerque PD—to respond to alarm calls in roughly 40 public buildings. The test program is proposed for a six-month trial period and will cost the taxpayers $18,000.

SIAC on Aug. 19 began alerting industry members to the situation.

The New Mexico Burglar and Fire Alarm Association has lobbied the city to fix the faulty alarm systems and has volunteered to survey each of these buildings at no charge to the city, but has received no interest in the offer so far. NMBFAA executive director Vic Berniklau said the city’s solution will only lead to more trouble. “Our pitch is that what they’re doing is treating the symptom—the false alarm—not the cause,” Berniklau said. “Why are these falses happening in the first place? Go in and fix the alarms so you have a much reduced need for response in the first place.”

Calls to Albuquerque public information officer Deborah James were not returned by press time.

ART president Steve Dichter said the pilot program would benefit the city and all its citizens. “This will free up more expensive police resources to work on higher priority calls,” Dichter said. “It’s in both our interest and in the client’s interest to not have false alarms. So as we see a pattern—whether it’s user error or if it’s something about how the equipment is configured—we’re going to give feedback. We don’t have the monitoring side or the equipment maintenance side, but we’ll work with whoever’s doing that to reduce false alarms.”

Doesn’t Albuquerque have a false alarm ordinance that should help reduce the number of false alarms and therefore negate the need to hire a private response company? According to the release from SIAC, Albuquerque, like many jurisdictions nationally, has an alarm ordinance that has been effective, but which exempts public buildings, like schools and government offices, from having to comply with the provisions of the legislation.

Berniklau said the trial period should cause concern and merits close scrutiny from the industry. “Rather than fix the problem, they’re treating the symptom and giving it to a bunch of retired city employees—there are a lot of other guard companies in town, and a lot of them larger—who are competitors for all of the alarm companies out here,” Berniklau said. “The concern of a number of alarm dealers is, ‘Is this the first step on the road to non response?’ The indication has been, ‘No, no, no, that’s not the case.’ But it’s the first step on a slippery slope.”

Additionally, Berniklau said the six-month trial—which was non-competing since it was for less than $50,000—is probably only the beginning. He claims Albuquerque mayor Martin Chavez has promised to contract full-time, citywide private response by ART, should the pilot program go well.

SIAC director Ron Walters said the situation in Albuquerque demands close examination. “The response company that got this no-bid test is the same company that attempted to get Santa Fe to go to non response so that they could then get an exclusive response contract with the City of Santa Fe,” Walters said in an email interview. “We know from experience that public buildings are huge violators because they aren't forced to comply with what their ordinance requires private citizens to do. With a very little bit of work I can guarantee you that they could reduce response to these buildings by 80 percent and then there is no response issue and no $18,000 of public money being spent … I would feel the same if my city was awarding any contract that wasn't put out for bid.”

ART’s Dichter said any long-term, private response program after the six month trial in Albuquerque would be subject to bids through an RFP.