Fort Worth City Council bows to pressure

Councilors rethink verified response after residents protest proposal
Saturday, November 1, 2003

FORT WORTH, Texas - After a week that featured resident protests and an anti-ordinance ad placed in the local paper, the Fort Worth City Council sent a proposed verified response policy back to committee for further review last month.

The proposal would have eliminated alarm permits that are now required in the city and allowed police to respond to alarms only if there were proof of a problem, provided by a monitoring company, guard service, resident or eyewitness.

However, on the night of Oct. 14, when the city council was to vote on the ordinance, more than 200 people, both residents and alarm company representatives, filed into council chambers for a public hearing on the proposal.

Earlier in the week, the North Texas Alarm Association, based in Richardson, had placed an ad in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in which it urged residents to speak out against the ordinance. In the ad it published the telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of city councilors.

According to NTAA President Nathan Bryant of Sentinel Alarm Co., public safety was the issue with the ordinance. He applauded the council’s decision to table the matter. He offered the assoc-iation’s assistance in coming to a compromise solution, saying the NTAA was “ready, willing and capable” of meeting with councilors anytime.

The Fort Worth City Council’s Public Safety Committee will take another look at the proposed ordinance sometime

before the end of November. Councilman Jim Lane, who chairs the committee said he will encourage alarm company representatives and concerned residents to attend the meeting.

“We’ll give this a full hearing,” he said.

Police Chief Ralph Mendoza proposed the ordinance to combat what he said were more than 65,000 false alarms annually, which cost the city about $3.4 million in wasted resources each year.

Adding to the tension in Fort Worth was an automated announcement that went out by phone to residents encouraging them to attend the Oct. 14 meeting. Bryant denied that the NTAA was behind the phone calls, which city officials told the Star-Telegram were “inaccurate and causing unnecessary concern.”

Salt Lake City adopted a verified response policy three years ago and according to Shanna Werner, who heads the alarm division of the Salt Lake City Police Department, her city is usually used as an example of verified response gone bad, but that that is not necessarily the case.

“We’ve had a slight increase in burglaries, but the sky has not fallen here. Citizens are not being pillaged, plundered and raped like some people like to say,” she said.

As a time- and cost-saving measure for the police, verified response works, Werner said.

“I totaled up my alarm responses from Jan. 1 to the end of September, and so far, we’ve got more than 500, compared to the more than 8,000 that we used to go on,” she said. “We’ve gone from 40 or 50 alarms a day to two a day.”

This is not the NTAA’s first foray into attempting to shape public policy in this arena. Among its claims to fame are preventing a requirement that would have forced each monitoring station to be licensed by the Texas Fire Marshal’s Office and reversing the position of the State Fire Marshal’s Office that would have required all fire alarm salespeople to be licensed as a fire alarm technician.