L.A. alarm policy is an industry

wake-up call
Wednesday, October 1, 2003

LOS ANGELES - In late July, when the Los Angeles Police Commission adopted a compromise plan for false alarm responses, many in the industry lauded the decision. The California Alarm Association claimed victory over the verified response plan that had been put forth.

Nearly two months later, there was still no solid timeframe for implementation of the plan, and the police chief vowed to continue the “status quo,” meaning officers would respond, but not necessarily in a timely fashion. Accord-ing to Jerry Lenander of the Greater Los Angeles Security Alarm Association, the issue is still in the hands of the Public Safety Committee of the Los Angeles City Council, which at press time was revising a city ordinance to reflect the change in police alarm response policy.

Once enacted, the policy will call for fines for all false alarms at an address. For those with permits, the fines will start at $95 for the first false alarm, which escalates by $50 for each subsequent incident. Those without valid permits will be hit harder, facing fines of $190, which escalate by $100. Beyond the first two false alarms, the police department will no longer respond to alarms, false or otherwise, at an address.

In a Security Systems News NewsPoll conducted in August and published in the September issue, 54.9 percent of respondents thought the compromise plan was not an effective compromise. The main objection some respondents noted was the effect the compromise would have on public safety.

Additionally, more than 90 percent of those who responded to the survey thought that the plan would have been either very influential or somewhat influential to officials in other locations across the United States and Canada that may be looking into false alarm ordinances.

Many in the industry see the L.A. compromise and the publicity surrounding it as an opportunity for dialogue on one of the biggest banes in the industry in recent years, namely the staggering percentage of alarms that turn out to be false.

Others said L.A. is a wake-up call to those in the industry who have in the past relied heavily on police and fire departments to respond to alarms.

“Forever in the alarm industry, we have been absolutely and totally dependent on free emergency response,” said Lee Jones of Support Services Group, a security industry mergers and acquisitions. “With ordinances like this, that is going away. When free emergency response – and the alarm industry calls this the third leg in the stool – goes away, it topples unless you have a viable substitute.”

Jones said this ordinance brings to light the tenuous relationship between police departments and alarm companies that has been simmering in the background for a long time (see sidebar on page xx).

“It’s probably the most important milestone that this industry has seen in 30 years, the last being, in my opinion, the digital dialer,” he said.

John Yusza, president of Monitor Controls Inc. in Wallingford, Conn., said he fears increased attention to what happened in L.A. may lead more municipalities across the country to look into their own false alarm ordinances, though not always for the most noble reasons.

“Each individual town looking at each individual ordinance across the United States pretty much has some sort of fining structure to it,” he said. “It’s the case here of some towns looking at it as a revenue enhancement and they have no real program, even within the police department, to reduce false alarms. Other towns have very good crime prevention officers who do get false alarms reduced, but they still have some sort of fining structure as a last resort.”

Russ Van Devanter, president of CastleRock Residential Security in Seattle, Wash., agreed, saying even the compromise plan is short-sighted on the part of the city of Los Angeles.

“[The L.A. policy] will reduce the effectiveness of citizens to receive any sort of meaningful real-time assistance for burglary, vandalism or other property crimes,” he said. “Once again municipalities have shot themselves in the foot by trying to fund budget shortfalls on the backs of its citizens. Time spent investigating successful burglaries will more than offset any time saved on police response.”

Another common theme from the industry is the hope that calling attention to the L.A. situation may lead to new technologies and practices from the alarm industry that are designed to reduce false alarms.

“The positives [of verified response and permit programs] will be the advancement in technology to improve the level of security and reliability of systems, and will cause central stations to perform at a higher level,” said Mike Watkins, vice president of commercial sales for Wichita, Kan.-based AlertAmerica.

But, Watkins added, there are also drawbacks to such enhancements.

“The negative aspect revolves around the many people that will now go unsecured due to the costs associated with these policies,” he said. “Costs such as video verification and high permit fees can be extremely high. Overall, I believe the impact will adversely affect our industry as a whole.”
Related story: Onus on alarm companies to mend fences