Oakland hires ATB as new ordinance administrator, but tells industry to do work

Industry reps fear alarming trend: 'It's like slap in the face'
Tuesday, December 22, 2009

OAKLAND, Calif.—In a perhaps trendsetting move that has taken industry reps by surprise, the city of Oakland, Calif., has done away with its old, successful false alarm ordinance, voted in a new ordinance designed solely by the Oakland Police Department’s False Alarm Reduction Unit and Fiscal Services Division, and hired ATB Services to administer the process. However, what raised alarms in the industry was that the new ordinance—originally slated to take effect Jan. 1—requires alarm companies to administer the permitting process, collect new registration fees and renewals, and deliver all proceeds to the city—minus a 16 percent cut for ATB. Due to industry efforts, the municipality has delayed enforcement of the annual renewal processing requirement until Jan. 15 to give industry representatives a chance to work with the city and get the ordinance changed.

East Bay Alarm Association president Tom Rood of ISP Alarm said the whole situation was unfortunate and could, if not corrected, set a dangerous precedent. “The bottom line is that the industry was not apprised of the situation until after ATB was awarded the contract. And that hurts. It’s like a slap in the face,” Rood said. “My suspicion is that once this passes muster in Oakland, I’m not so sure other surrounding cities won’t jump on this bandwagon.”

This is not the first time a municipality has tried to legally require the industry to be culpable for the expense and effort of administering the municipality’s permitting process. In July, Security Systems News covered a similar situation in Lexington-Fayette County, Kentucky. At the time, SIAC executive director Stan Martin said there was sometimes a blurring of responsibility. “This is kind of like sending Ford Motor Company the registration and speeding ticket fines,” Martin said in July.

California Alarm Association immediate past president and SIAC industry/law enforcement liaison Jon Sargent agreed. “Overall, there is no problem with the new Oakland ordinance except for one part that is a great concern to the alarm industry. The concern is with the annual renewal of alarm permits, collection of annual fees by the alarm companies and then submission to the city,” reads an email from Sargent to the City of Oakland. “Annual permit renewals should be between the alarm users and the city directly; not the alarm companies.”

Officials at the OPD say no industry representatives attended city council meetings at which the prospective ordinance was discussed, though the old ordinance was created via a cooperative effort between city administrators, the industry and law enforcement. A memo dated Feb. 27, 2009, to the City of Oakland Bureau of Investigation from the OPD highlights perceived problems with the existing ordinance and outlines imminent changes. “The number of alarm calls increased significantly for the first time in three years from 23,867 in 2007 to 25,252 in 2008,” the memo reads. “The FARU [False Alarm Reduction Unit] will be transferred to the OPD Fiscal Services Division and will be managed by director Gil Garcia … Gil Garcia and FARU staff will rewrite the burglar alarm ordinance.” Garcia was with Stockton, Calif.’s alarm unit from 2000 to 2001.

The new ordinance was drafted without industry knowledge or input by OPD Fiscal Services director Garcia and FARU staff during the following four months and voted into law in July.

Sargent said while the meetings at which the prospective ordinance was discussed may have been announced, industry input was never sought. “When it came to Oakland, it came as a complete shock, because no one in the industry was informed about the ordinance,” Sargent said “Our industry, on two levels—through the East Bay Alarm Association and the California Alarm Association—has a very close relationship with the OPD going back decades … I got involved with discussing false alarm reduction with the OPD back in 1976, that’s how far back the relationship goes.”

Industry attorney Ken Kirschenbaum, of Kirschenbaum & Kirschenbaum, PC, addressed the Oakland issue in his industry-focused email newsletter and informed the industry of a special informational meeting conducted by the OPD and ATB on Dec. 16. “They can call it false alarm reduction, better protection for the public or anything else they want,” Kirschenbaum’s email reads, “but it’s revenue raising for the City and that’s about it.”

Of the Dec. 16 meeting, OPD FARU coordinator Antone Hicks said most of the discussion between attendees and presenters focused on the requirement that the industry administer the permit process. “We had approximately 30 industry representatives present. There was a lot of discussion over the City of Oakland asking the industry to invoice alarm owners for the city’s registration fee,” Hicks said. “We reviewed how the new program will work, and what’s required of the industry.”

Sargent maintained the ordinance had to change and said the industry and its legal representatives were making every attempt to work with the city. “I’m doing a lot right now and trying to get some changes made. I’ve met with the OPD and some of the council members. [Industry attorney] Les Gold has spoken with the city attorney,” Sargent said, noting the industry simply wants the permit process to be administered by ATB, since that’s part of what Oakland contracted ATB to do.

Calls to ATB for comment on the services they would provide and for which they would bill were referred to OPD FARU coordinator Hicks. “They’re doing all the alarm tracking and billing, and they’ll send us a bill for a percentage,” Hicks said. “There’s a long list of services that they’ll be providing the City of Oakland, and permit billing is a very small piece of it.”

Gold of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp said meetings with the Oakland attorney have gone well so far. “He was very cooperative, understands the problem and indicates that as long as the Oakland PD is in accord, he is sure we can work it out,” Gold said.

Sargent said the goal was to have a successful ordinance everyone could live with. “As of this moment, we’re just waiting for the final pieces to fall into place. We need that piece of policy to be rewritten and then it’s got to go back to council. We have to change this error in Oakland. We’re moving in the right direction,” Sargent said. “We want Oakland to be very successful so we can look to it in the future as a model.”