California town pushing police-monitored residential video surveillance

Trend, or an isolated matter?
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Monday, May 4, 2009

ATHERTON, Calif.—Atherton Police detective Sherman Hall said there is only one reason the APD owns and operates its own central station: a competitive edge.

The police department’s central offers free monitoring of intrusion alarms for residents, and now free video monitoring. However, when asked about competing with area monitoring companies, Hall says APD maintains the edge over the would-be criminals in its jurisdiction, not over the security industry.

“The idea is that by cutting out the middle man—the alarm monitoring service—we expedite our response time. The alarm comes in to us in a matter of a minute or two, versus some of our residents who use the other monitoring services where there can be a delay of five to seven minutes by the time they go do their verification and then call us,” Hall said. “If we get an alarm, we go out there and then deal with the verification later when we’re actually on the scene.”

Atherton is the rare town where the cops are unconcerned with false alarms.

California Alarm Association past president, Jon Sargent, who is with ADT industry relations, West, said there are still a few wealthy communities out there like Atherton, with average home prices of $4 million, where the municipality still controls the monitoring and surveillance of the town. “The industry hasn’t really had issues with these affluent towns—the last of the police-monitored communities—because the police just want the first burglary signal to come to them so they can get rolling quickly,” Sargent said. “I don’t think they mind going to a false alarm at all. They go out and meet and talk to their residents, and the community is well protected. Everybody’s happy.”

Security Industry Alarm Coalition director Ron Walters feels the industry need not fear Atherton as a trendsetter. “Most police departments don’t want to be in the monitoring business, and there are tons of reasons,” Walters said. “Mostly dollars. Also, the privacy issues are big, and a huge barrier in the potential growth of off-site residential video monitoring.”

In fact, Sargent thinks the Atherton move to free video monitoring is a good thing. “We’ve sort of broken through the glass ceiling of ‘Big Brother,’ where people realize that to keep up with crime and have an impact, you’ve got to have video technology,” Sargent said.

“A lot of alarm monitoring services are offering video as a complement, as an alarm verification mechanism, and we’re keeping up,” Hall said. “And it’s not only just keeping up. We get a benefit, too. We get more information about what we’re getting into. Not only can we verify alarms, but if there is a burglary or a suspicious person on the scene, we have intelligence about how we approach that scene. That’s a huge benefit for us in terms of officer safety.”

The APD is offering its service to existing analog CCTV systems, which can be tied into the town’s video monitoring system with an encoder, along with existing monitored video solutions and all new installs. “There are a lot of cameras out in the community right now. A lot of these houses have cameras monitoring their exteriors, monitoring their gates—it’s not a gated community, but a community of many gates,” Hall said. “So being able to fold that all in allows us, a small—even though it’s a wealthy residential community, the police department isn’t necessarily wealthy—this allows us to leverage that infrastructure to take advantage of the force multiplier effect.”