The power of an angry mob

Sunday, June 1, 2003

Managing Editor, Security Systems News

Alarm industry officials
in Los Angeles in early May were dealt a blow when a California judge decided that the police commission, by the letter of the law, was justified in setting into place a policy where all burglar alarms must be verified before police will respond.

While the outcome of that court case rested solely on the issue’s legal merits, such as if the verified response policy violated the state’s alarm ordinance or if the police commission or city officials followed proper procedures when developing and adopting the policy, the validity of the actual verified response theory has been debated in the court of public opinion for quite some time. Obviously the subject has been particularly high profile recently as the L.A. situation has brought national attention to the subject.

The end result of the L.A. situation won’t be known for some time, even after the final court decision is handed down, the policy is implemented and the kinks are worked out. The only way, as I see it, for the policy to be a success is for the citizens of the city of Los Angeles to be satisfied with the outcome.

The fallout from instituting such a drastic plan and having many citizens unhappy with the process is a reality that I can’t help but envision. Public outcry over the first major crime to happen in a home where an alarm was unable to be verified and the police didn’t respond will be fast and furious. An angry crowd of citizens can be a force to be reckoned with, particularly if they are armed not only with anger or enthusiasm but facts and figures as well.

Is that a naïve view? I hope not. As a citizen, albeit one who knows a bit more about the alarm industry than my neighbor, I have an inherent trust in the political process. If you are an involved citizen, one who attends meetings and speaks out, or at least keeps up with events on public access cable or through the local media and isn’t afraid to let your elected representatives know your opinion, you can make a difference.

Will that be enough to change the minds of Los Angeles police officials or elected officials in any other city that has implemented such a policy? It could work out, after all. While L.A. might be the largest city in the country to consider it, officials in other municipalities could be happy with the outcome in their city, and so too, might the local citizens.

So what are these citizens saying to you, the alarm dealer? Are they asking questions about what will happen to their alarm system or how much are they going to have to pay in false alarms if that new ordinance before the city council gets passed? Is anybody but law enforcement and the alarm industry paying attention?

Certainly in Los Angeles, where citizens took part in a task force, people are paying attention. But how about in Albuquerque, N.M., or in Omaha, Neb.? Or Waterloo, N.Y.?

Do they ask you why the false alarm fees are so high or what can they do to try and prevent another false alarm? Does anyone go as far as to ask what your security company does to alleviate the problem?

In this issue, we polled a few security companies on our list to see how important they thought end-user education was in the fight against false alarms. You can check out the results in this month's Databank.