Onus on alarm cos. to mend fences

L.A. situation highlights rift between industry, public safety officials
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Wednesday, October 1, 2003

The contentiousness displayed in the fight over verified response in Los Angeles is indicative of the relationship between police and alarm companies across the country, according to several in the industry.

One of the first steps in preventing false alarms, according to John Yusza, president of Monitor Controls Inc. in Wallingford, Conn., is to address misconceptions about how alarm companies operate.

“The perception of what everybody thinks of the alarm industry, especially the police department, is that we sit back and collect checks for monitoring while they do all the work of responding to alarms,” Yusza said. “That is something that may take some time for them to realize that the true legitimate professional alarm company doesn’t run it that way.”

Yusza also said most of the blame for the damaged relationship lies with “the guy who finds a central station somewhere in the United States that will monitor his accounts for $2 or $3 while he charges $30 a month and pockets the extra, then leaves his answering machine on all weekend, making it the central station’s problem.”

Los Angeles, he said, provides a local example of how this has happened within the industry over the years.

“You’re talking about a very large market out there in California where one really reputable guy can have the security industry trashed by three or

four unreputable people who shouldn’t be in the business in the first place,” Yusza said. “If they can’t take it serious enough to provide a certain level of service to the client, as well as knowing what’s going on with their systems, unfortunately, this can be the result of it.”

Lee Jones of security industry merger and acquisition firm Support Services Group said he knows of at least one case where a local police department has taken an extreme approach to reducing the number of false alarms it responds to.

“A police department is bringing charges against the monitoring company for dispatching a false alarm, and specifically the dispatcher, for filing a false police report,” Jones said. “Unfortunately, the person who gets beat up is the lowest-paid employee with the highest responsibility in this business, and that’s the monitoring dispatcher.”

He declined to give specifics, saying he was not at liberty to discuss the case until details had been made public.

Eugene, Ore., was one of the first cities on the West Coast to adopt a verified response policy, according to Jerry Crosby, owner of Reliant Security Systems Inc. The result, he said, has been that police are more than happy not to be responding to alarms, leaving that duty to dispatched guard patrols. However, Crosby questioned whether this is the wisest course of action.

“I don’t see a reversal of this policy unless someone is shot and killed by a third party while acting to verify an alarm activation,” Crosby said. “It will be cheaper for the alarm system user to pay for a guard to respond than risk the cost of a fine.”

In the case of false alarm ordinances, Crosby said, the alarm industry shoulders most of the blame, as well as the long-term penalty, for allowing the relationship with police departments to deteriorate so far.

“We in the alarm business were the direct cause of these city and police non-response policies,” he said. “We have seen residential subscribers not renewing their monitoring agreements when they expire. ‘Why renew when the police won’t come?’ is the answer given most often by the departing subscriber.”

Among those attempting to repair the relationship between police departments and the security industry is the National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association. At the NBFAA Fall Conference, held from Sept. 28 through Oct. 3 in conjunction with the National Summit on Security in Washington, the association will hold a public safety roundtable. Representatives from both sides will come together in an effort to foster a dialogue on reducing false alarms through a cooperative effort.