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Book reports industry mooches off taxpayers

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008
So after a few days on backorder from my favorite local bookstore, I finally got around to reading Free Lunch by David Cay Johnston. The main argument is this: taxpayers foot the bill for responding to false alarms which equals the profits reported by the security industry. Hence, the free lunch reference. Here’s the argument verbatim: “These profits are huge because the alarm industry does not pay its largest single cost, labor to check out alarms. The taxpayers pick up this expense. Each time the police check out an alarm it costs more than $50, the police in Seattle and other cities have determined. The average alarm goes off more than once each year. The police responded to about 38 million alarms in 2000 at a total cost to taxpayers of $1.9 billion. The burglar alarm industry collected $7.9 billion from residential and commercial burglar alarm customers that year. So if the industry’ estimates are reliable, it means that profits were almost $1.9 billion, almost exactly the value of the taxpayer subsidy in having police check out false alarms.” Johnston concludes with this: “The burglar alarm industry charges hefty fees for a service that costs it very little. Then the industry dumps onto the taxpayers the real costs of providing the very service it sells. This is economic pollution sold to people under the guise of making them safe. In fact, it makes them less safe.” The “safe” argument that Johnston tries to work into his argument is fairly weak, in my opinion, and a manipulation of numbers, but I won’t divert to that right now. Instead, I would say that the alarm industry is certainly aware that false alarms are an issue, but the real question is: How will the industry deal with this negative public image? Any ideas?

Do you know your overtime laws?

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008
This article caught my eye today, especially considering the Brink's back-pay settlement we wrote about a few months back. Basically, lawsuits against small businesses are on the rise, where employees are paying more attention to "the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act, which mandates time-and-a-half wages for any hours worked beyond 40 a week." This line is particularly auspicious: A New Orleans security company was assessed $185,385. I'm kind of assuming that's a guard company, but there's no way to know (I've never understood why mainstream reporters don't name companies specifically in stories like this. The information is right in front of them. Do they think it would be embarrassing for the company named? Isn't it worse to be hit with $185,385 in back wages?). Regardless, for you integrators and installers that might be sending people out at odd hours to fix stuff, or are pushing to finish up a job with salaried employees, you might want to make sure everybody's working the proper amount or being paid more.

New NBFAA Web site

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008
It's been up for a few days, but I just checked out the National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association's new Web site. It's slick and easy to use, and there's lots of information on members and services there. Check out the membership directory, for example.

Caught with his thumb in the pie

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Monday, January 21, 2008
Sorry to be away from the blog for a while, but here's a solid mid-afternoon pick-you-up. Why do we need security systems in schools? To catch this kid. Apparently, he had a hankering for pie at 4:15 a.m. Who doesn't, really?

New comments all over the place

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Monday, January 21, 2008
Just an FYI that Blogger has been hiding some comments from me for reasons undetermined and that you can see what some other people said if you scroll back down through the January posts. Okay, well, it's the Tim Whall post where people had the most to say. Check it out. Jan. 7. I think I've got the problem solved going forward, so you keep up the comments, and I'll keep up the random thoughts on Mission:Impossible.

Meet Potter's new owners in St. Louis

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Friday, January 18, 2008
St. Louis-based Potter Electric Signal, a fire and security systems manufacturer, and a family-owned business that was most recently owned by descendents of founder Charles Potter has been acquired by Two Rivers Associates, a St. Louis VC firm. New investors also include Potter Electric executive management. I'm having trouble linking directly to the press release, but here's their Web site. Click on "What's New" to read their press release.

Alarm One's harassment is OK as long as it's equal?

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Thursday, January 17, 2008
Alarm One of Anaheim, Calif., which should have won some kind of "most likely to be mistaken for a trogloydyte" award for seeking to motivate its employees by corporal punishment and humiliation, has been one-upped, in my opinion, by an attorney who helped reverse a sexual harassment decision against the company. Please read on. In 2006, Janet Orlando was awarded $1.7 million in a sexual harassment case against her former employer, Alarm One. That judgment was reversed this week by an appeals court according to this story which ran in the Fresno Bee today. Orlando and other employees were subjected to spankings as part of Alarm One's “team building exercises.” Here’s our story on the lower court decision. According to today's Fresno Bee story, the jury of the lower court should have been instructed to determine if Orlando was spanked because she's a woman. Orlando's attorney Nicholas Wagner indicated he'll attempt to bring the case back to trial and said, "I'm kind of surprised that the court has taken the position that, if men and women are harassed the same way, then it's OK." I saw in an AP story that Alarm One had gone out of business. Maybe something good will come out of this after all.

CCTV in "Little Guyana"

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008
It's hard to pass up these mainstream videos from news organizations covering the proliferation of cameras in public spaces. It's such a great window into how the general population feels. We talk often about educating the end user, but maybe not often enough about educating the level below the end user. Is this something SIA could take on? A general public educational campaign about the benefits of CCTV? It might get more municipalities buying, I think, with less public uncertainty and cynicism. Go here to check out the latest from NYC. Pardon the ad that starts the video - everybody's got to pay the bills somehow.

Nice mainstream piece on a courthouse installation

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008
I always point out when the mainstream press gets security wrong, so I thought I'd point out this article that really does a nice job of explaining to the general public what's going on at their local courthouse. Nothing revolutionary, but the installer is interviewed and the nuts and bolts are outlined well. On a smaller note, I can't decide what to think about this quote: "The courthouse can be a violable place," Armentrout said. "If something were to happen, we hope to be able to respond to it adequately." Did he really say volatile or violent, and violable is a typo, or did he really say violable, using an archaic adjectival form of the verb to violate? Meaning, I guess, the courthouse can be a place where people are violated, in the broad sense of the word?

Media/public disconnect

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Monday, January 14, 2008
When will the mainstream media disabuse themselves of this whole "Big Brother" filter with which they see all video surveillance projects? Check out this news broadcast from New York: Edit: For a while, the video was right here, but I couldn't figure out how to stop it from automatically playing every time the page loaded, so I got rid of it. To view the video, go here. Do you notice how they lead wondering "how neighbors feel being so closely watched by big brother"? It's absurd. Have they read 1984? Big Brother was a bad dude. He was the head of a government that went around rewriting history and had monitoring devices in people's homes. Somehow, that's been extrapolated to security cameras in public places, where you have no expectation of privacy whatsoever. It's a street corner. What are you worried people are going to see you doing there? But that's not even the problem here. The problem is that the media is supposed to accurately reflect the news as it's happened. Is there anyone complaining about the possibility of cameras here? Um, no. In fact, everyone they interview is completely in favor of the cameras. Why? Because, oh, I don't know, they're scared and they want someone to help them? The simple fact is, they're not going to be watched by Big Brother. They're going to be watched by their friends and neighbors, the fine folks that make up their police department, and they're going to be overseen by elected officials like County Executive Tom Santulli. This is the exact opposite of Big Brother. It's the people getting what they want, not having it imposed upon them against their will. Does the TV station listen to its own broadcast? “There's a lot of older people that live around here, it's a protected community and if the cameras will control the violence and drug affiliation then I'm all for it,” says Mitchell. “Everybody feels that there's some degree of invasion of privacy with things of that nature, but something has to be done about the crime that's starting to overrun our county,” says Christine Alington. Those sound like rational people to me. The broadcaster, however, sounds a bit hyperbolic. If the security industry doesn't push back on all this Big Brother talk, the implementation of real potential benefits will be hampered by such hyperbole.

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