A new direction in Los Angeles

Saturday, November 1, 2003

For years the alarm industry has proven to be an effective partner with law enforcement agencies, representing those citizens who have invested in security alarm system technology and services to protect their properties, families, employees and customers.

In Los Angeles, the public safety agency position was that the alarm industry provides no service to the community and there was nothing we could say to change their minds. Because of this mindset, they felt comfortable adopting a policy that would, in essence, eliminate response to a citizen’s alarm activation. The industry in Los Angeles performs well above the national standards set for alarm management by law enforcement and industry associations, but this was not relevant to the public safety agency.

Los Angeles had lowered the response priority in 1999, resulting in an increase in burglaries of approximately 30% following nearly a decade of steady and dramatic decline. None of this was considered relevant by the law enforcement officials in Los Angeles when they proposed verified response. They continued to pursue non-response with an ideological zeal.

It was only when the citizens and their elected officials became involved that the law enforcement officials were derailed from implementing a public safety policy that would result in increased burglaries and overall crime. It was the citizens on the Task Force, many who did not have an alarm, who studied the issue and made the final recommendations which were adopted unanimously by the Task Force, two committees of the City Council and the City Council as a whole.

In spite of this, the Police Commission and the Chief of Police continued to advocate and move to implement a policy of non-response (verified response). With the community and elected officials united but frustrated, the mayor put forth his own proposal based partially on the work of the Task Force. The policy is still being developed through the ordinance process, and it is hoped the elected officials and citizens will rely on the foundational work of the Task Force as they write a final policy which will serve to enhance the security of the community.

Ultimately, it is the responsible citizen who must demand effective and meaningful alarm response in their community to maintain the proven crime deterrent of professionally monitored electronic alarm systems. If there was any failure on the part of the alarm industry in Los Angeles, it may be that we did not encourage the citizens to participate in the process from the beginning.

The alarm industry, at least that part represented by our participation in Los Angeles, has come to realize that we can no longer be the only party at the table when discussing alarm response policies with law enforcement. The citizens, alarm owners or not, must be there discussing with their police department what the best public safety policy is for their community.

The alarm industry is a good and strong partner with the community and law enforcement, but the effectiveness of what we do is directly related to the commitment of all parties to promote sound public safety policy. The Task Force found that the alarm industry already had exceeded the best standards by national law enforcement organizations for the reduction of false alarms. It is a flawed response policy, not the alarm industry, that has a negative impact on public safety.

In the end, it was not the alarm industry that reached an agreement in Los Angeles; the agreement was between the community and their law enforcement agency. If the citizens of Los Angeles choose to agree to an alarm response policy that compromises public safety, then that is the decision of the community. We know they will not do that, and we know they will insist on a fair and reasonable alarm response policy.

We know that denigrating alarm response and especially adopting policies such as verified response will result in increased burglaries and overall crime. We have learned this by seriously studying the issue, avoiding rhetorical and anecdotal statements, and relying on experts in law enforcement administration and management.

Thomas Jefferson said that he had great confidence that the American people, fully informed, will not make a mistake. As an industry, we have a critical responsibility to make sure that citizens and elected officials have access to all the information in order for them to make an informed decision. If the alarm industry was negligent in Los Angeles, it was a failure to promote, facilitate and insist on serious study of the public safety policy issues related to alarm response from the beginning.

We know that we contribute to public safety, we know we reduce the demand for police resources, but if we are the only voice then it can be easily dismissed. Our mission now is to take steps to ensure that every person participating in this important public policy issue is as fully informed as the members of the Task Force. They understood that the standard against which every policy should be measured is public safety, not false alarms. That is something we learned from the citizens, and it is a message we should share with others.

George Gunning is CEO of USA Alarm Systems in Monrovia, Calif., and was a member of the City of Los Angeles Burglar Alarm Task Force.