California municipality adopts verified-response policy

Industry left scrambling to inform customers of options
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Saturday, August 14, 2010

CATHEDRAL CITY, Calif.—City officials here have adopted a verified-response policy in order to cope with its false alarm problem. Worse than the move itself, security industry officials say, is that the municipality apparently gave no warning to alarm companies and has, reportedly, ceased speaking with representatives of SIAC and the Inland Empire Alarm Association, who have been proactively working to combat the problem for more than a year.

“It is a sad day when a decision like this is made with no concern for the citizens, or any opportunity for the citizens to speak,” said SIAC director Ron Walters. “If this isn't bad enough, to then cut off all communication … is proof that there is no interest on the part of the elected officials to understand all sides of this issue.”

Cathedral, with a population of roughly 50,000, has had a false alarm ordinance on the books since 1988. However, the ordinance was not enforced, according to Walters. “Pretty typical as the number one reason that ordinances fail is for lack of enforcement,” he said.

Mace CSSS VP Morgan Hertel, who is also president of the IEAA, said the police department claims to respond to 4,000 to 5,000 false alarms a year. “We estimate that there’s probably 3,000 or 4,000 systems in the city, based on population. I don’t think the city knows because their ordinance doesn’t require any permitting,” He said. “Those numbers track with cities that have never done anything with ECV … When you move to fine and fee structures and ECV gets mandated then you see those numbers drop. And we tried to tell the city that, but they just weren’t interested.

“The ordinance they have now is very weak,” Hertel continued. “So we put together one for them that has some teeth and sort of last minute they sprang this on us with no discussion.”

A July 14 agenda report from the CCPD to the city council on alarm response from outlines the reasons for its decision to go to verified response. “The police department intends to implement an ‘Alarm Response Policy,’ as an operating policy and procedure for responding to residential and business alarm calls within the community,” the notice reads. “Research suggests that adopting a policy of law enforcement agencies as first responders to locations of concern to homeland security, robbery or panic alarms and alarm calls verified by alarm companies to be legitimate, and is an effective way to reduce false alarm calls.” The report to the city council also made clear the impending implementation date.

A July 20 letter from Cathedral City to industry execs announced and attempted to explain the quickly approaching policy change. “Effective August 1, 2010, the Cathedral City Police Department will implement a policy change to all burglary alarm calls … As the alarm and/or monitoring company, it will be your responsibility to verify an alarm is actually making notification of a problem or crime in progress prior to contacting police,” the letter reads. “A verified response can include sound/video of crime in progress, an eyewitness that can confirm there is a problem or private security that responds to the scene and verifies that there is a crime in progress or that a crime has been committed.”

SIAC officials were surprised. “We had several meetings with the police over the last year. The first contact was over a year ago and was completely proactive on our part,” Walters said. “We promoted the model ordinance and each time we were told they were not making a decision. When the notice finally came out it was with only a couple days notice leaving no time to notify customers or make other response options available to the alarm users.”

Police officials were quick to respond to queries from SSN and to point out they are not discontinuing alarm response. “Anything that’s manually operated—hold up or panic, for example—we’ll still rate those as priority one as we always have. The only thing we’re changing is that if it’s a mechanically activated alarm—motion, for example—until it’s verified we won’t necessarily respond,” said CCPD public information officer Lt. Chuck Robinson. “Those alarms will still be dispatched out, but it will be up to the officers in the field to decide what priority they give the response.”