Verify or pay: Municipality shifts false alarm fines to alarm companies

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03/31/2010
I'm currently working on a few different stories that all have to do with verification. I'm speaking with COPS' own superstar Maria Malice who is the president of the AzAA. They're currently attempting to work with the town of Goodyear Arizona to come up with a solution to the false alarm problem they're facing other than non response unless the alarm is verified. I spoke with Goodyear PD chief Mark Brown as well. He told me that Goodyear was only the first of least 10 other Greater Phoenix municipalities that were flirting with verified response or no response. "We just happened to go first," Brown said. Brown told me Goodyear was at its wit's end dealing with a worsening false alarm problem and needed to do something to ensure the public was safe, officers weren't getting complacent and alarm companies were being held accountable. Goodyear has had an ordinance in place for 13 years, but Brown said the town still suffered from a false alarm rate of 98 percent. "We’re finding that the biggest issue is operator error ... Fines aren’t a deterrent, the educational component we have doesn't seem to be working and we really need to make a change," Brown said. "We’re wanting to put some more emphasis and focus on the alarm companies to take care of maintenance and education and do a better customer service job in educating customers ... We’re looking at removing the alarm user from the whole fee process and putting the responsibility on the alarm companies, as well." Brown said they had not yet contacted SIAC for input, but they did have plans to meet with Maria and the AzAA on April 1. Come on SIAC, these guys need some options. I also spoke with Videofied's Keith Jentoft yesterday and today. He's become sort of the de facto spokesman for a new website and (and attendant movement) called Enhanced Video Alarm. He's actually written a lengthy piece piece on why enhanced alarms (verified alarms) are better than their run-of-the-mill "blind" intrusion alarm cousins. The piece will appear in the May/June issue of Sheriff, which is read by 20,000 Sheriffs nationwide. Jentoft has also been invited to give a talk at the National Sheriffs Association Convention held in Anaheim, Calif. in June. From a press release on Keith's upcoming presentation at the convention:
National Sheriffs Convention Holds Workshop on 'Priority Response' The National Sheriffs Association June convention, attracting more than 4,000 sheriffs from across the United States, will include a workshop on Priority Response to Enhanced Video Alarms. The Priority Response concept avoids the negativity of local false alarm battles with fines/ordinances and instead focuses on a positive message, asking Law Enforcement, 'Would you give higher priority to Enhanced Video Alarms?' Instead of ordinances, the goals of priority response are simply a dispatch policy change: 1. Adoption of a special code by Dispatch Centers designating a higher priority response for Enhanced Video Alarms than standard alarms. 2. An email address in dispatch centers where participating central stations can send video clips of intruders for possible review by the dispatch operators. Example: VideoAlarm@citypolicedept.gov.” Keith Jentoft, a spokesman for the Priority Response initiative, and president of RSI Video Technologies Inc, explains that Enhanced Video Alarm is a generic category where the alarm system also delivers a short video clip to the central station who confirms the presence of an intruder. This is not surveillance, but an incremental step in the detect/notify process that alarm companies have been doing for decades. In addition to a standard alarm signal, central station operators view a video of what caused the alarm and dispatch accordingly. Jentoft states, 'These alarms can be delivered by at least three different technologies available from many manufacturers; the key is that Priority Response is a win for all security stakeholders. Law Enforcement gets more arrests, greater officer safety and more efficiency. Consumers have greater protection and life-safety and the industry is able to provide services that have greater value than "blind” systems. Adding two-way voice makes the concept even stronger.'
Sonitrol's always tweeting out news blurbs of how their audio-verified alarms bring the cops quickly and result in an apprehension... I wrote a story on the developing verification trend last year. Looks like this issue might be heating up. Keith had a valid point when he said, "rather than try and minimize a negative by dealing with the false alarms after they happen, why not try and maximize a positive" by embracing enhanced alarms to begin with and ensuring higher-priority police response? Is it time to get verified? Again from the NSA press release:
The Priority Response concept which has been embraced by Law Enforcement in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Alabama, Massachusetts and Texas has already had a positive impact on budgets and apprehensions.
Keith's missive in Sheriff includes the following quote from an open letter from Calhoun County, Ala. Sheriff Larry Amerson (who is third Vice President of the NSA).
While Calhoun County Sheriff’s Deputies will continue our current policy of responding immediately to all intrusion alarms, we believe that enhanced video alarms offer enhanced protection to you and help us in our efforts to keep Calhoun County citizens safe and protect their property. We believe that the delivery of a video of the specific event that triggered the alarm is a tremendous improvement in alarm technology that will lead to a reduction in false alarms saving valuable budget dollars. While we are not endorsing a specific provider or brand of product, we support the efforts of the security industry to provide their customers with the best protection possible and we look forward to being able to use enhanced video alarms to improve the life safety of our county.”
I'd love to hear what you all think about adding video or audio for verification. Chime in and let me know if you see a trend developing in your municipalities of police pushing for verification or no-response. Are municipalities around you charging alarm companies instead of the end user for false alarms?

Comments

I keep hearing about all these false alarm complants and how to go about fixing the problem.Well for years now this problem is still going on. I have repaired many alarm systems that were installed by other alarm companies or someone installing as a side job or do it yourselfers that install with no care or integrity for the alarm installationis and is a big cause to false alarms do to a very sloppy installation. The approch the Police and the Cities are taking is not realy going to fix this problem, just adding another band-aid to the problem. Just as there is an electrical inspection permit that needs to be obtained to inspect the electrical work. There should be the same type permits and inspections for alarm installations as well as the cities keeping up with business city lisense. There for getting rid of the sloppy installation by the alarm companies, side jobs and doit yourselfers. There is also another problem and that is the equipment that is manufactured that is not UL LISTED. These manufactur's might as well give out guaranteed false alarm certificates with there products.

Thanks for the comment, Roger. I agree that there is never a quick, easy solution to the false alarm problem. In my experience, reporting on the security industry, and on false alarm reduction efforts, it has been shown time and time again that the most successful cases are instances in which the municipality and the industry work to together and compromise to mutual benefit of all. In fact, a story I wrote in February on collaborative false alarm reduction efforts in <a href="http://www.securitysystemsnews.com/index.php?p=article&amp;id=ss201002iK... rel="nofollow">Marietta, Ga.</a> showed the teamwork paid off in a 65 percent reduction of false alarms as well as an overall reduction in crime. That story was recently republished through the efforts of SIAC (and the permission of Security Systems News) in the <a href="http://www.gachiefs.com/News_QuarterlyNewsletters.htm" rel="nofollow">Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police quarterly newsletter</a>.

I spoke with Arizona Alarm Association president Maria Malice today after her meeting with the Goodyear PD. She said she was "very optimistic about working together amicably" with the Goodyear PD. She said they asked her for a lot of information--which is always good--which she provided. She also said she had provided the GPD with contact names and numbers for the very helpful folks at SIAC, so hopefully things will take a turn for the better.

Again, thank you for the feedback Roger.

One thing we need to be careful of is that the cameras being used to prevent false alarms, don't themselves become the cause of a false alarm. Video motion detection in cameras is not reliable and triggering should be left to detection equipment connected to the alarm panel.

Thanks for the comment Max. Do you think that analytics rather than simple motion detection would help with combating possible false alarms? Also, I've spoken with security folks who use motion detection video-based solutions and they claim to have studies that prove not only a reduction in false alarms, but an increase in apprehensions. In fact I <a href="http://www.securitysystemsnews.com/blogsm/?p=2148" rel="nofollow">blogged</a> last year about a particularly eye-opening case study in Detroit.

The verified--or augmented as Amcest is calling it in a <a href="http://" rel="nofollow">separate story</a> I'm working on now--movement away from blind or deaf intrusion (Sonitrol <a href="http://twitter.com/SonitrolPacific" rel="nofollow">advocates</a> pretty strongly for audio augmentation for obvious reasons) seems to make sense and, according to a few people I've spoken with, has been gaining a lot of steam, if chatter at ISC West was any indication.

Thank you for the comment Max.