NJ town to get into residential monitoring business

Thursday, September 3, 2009

MARLBORO, N.J.—The police department here wants to “cut out the middleman” and increase revenue by taking over the monitoring of residential accounts, and they intend to get started as soon as Oct. 1, according to Chris Mosley, president Complete Security Systems and past president of the NJBFAA.

“They’re going to do it. No matter what we say or do, they’re going to do this,” Mosley said. “This was a recommendation from the department of community affairs to help boost revenue in the police department.”

The Marlboro Town Council voted in favor of the new ordinance at their meeting Sept. 10. The ordinance was scheduled to have its final reading and public comment in the beginning of October.

According to a report in the Marlboro News Transcript, the mayor of Marlboro estimated that the town could raise between $351,000 and $900,000 by monitoring home alarm systems. The police chief is quoted in the report as saying that residents who opt to have their systems monitored by the police department rather than by a private security company “will cut out the middle man,” and may see faster response times when an alarm is received.

Security Industry Alarm Coalition director Ron Walters feels viewing the alarm industry as an arbitrary “middle man” is short-sighted. “The alarm industry is proud of the fact that we screen roughly 75 percent of all actionable alarm signals prior to sending any notification to the authorities for action. In jurisdictions where ordinances are in place that number is over 80 percent and in a handful of jurisdictions that have adopted all of the industries recommended practices we have seen reductions of over 90 percent,” Walters said in an email interview. “Achieving these reductions is very labor intensive and the industry fear is that an alarm receiver sitting in the corner of a 9-1-1 center provides a disservice to the alarm system users.”

Marlboro has monitored several commercial accounts, currently numbering 75, since the 1970s. The equipment has been updated from analog to digital and “is now able to accommodate more alarm systems while opening the service to more customers, including residents,” the report said. Mosley said the development was worrisome. “I don’t know what we do to fight this as an industry,” Mosley said. “I really don’t know.”

This is not the first time that a city police department has tried to raise revenue by offering monitoring to residents. Earlier this year, the Nassau County, N.Y. police department looked into monitoring residential accounts. After security industry representatives got involved, Nassau officials decided it lacked the expertise, manpower and liability coverage to get into the residential monitoring business.

Walters said municipalities often lose sight of how much is involved in monitoring alarms. “Monitoring alarm systems is so much more than just handling the actionable calls,” Walters said. “Today’s alarm systems are capable of sending hundreds of signals that do not require a public response but are diagnostic in nature. These calls are typically not taken into account when public entities explore monitoring as a profit center.”

According to industry attorney Ken Kirschenbaum, of Kirschenbaum & Kirschenbaum, PC, who consulted on the Nassau case, the situation in Marlboro may be a little different. “Nassau County abandoned the idea after we met with them and explained the cost and the risks,” Kirschenbaum said in an email interview. “It may work in a smaller setting—my village monitors for residents, but the total population is 900 so probably only a few hundred use the service at most.”