Verified alarms discussion--A voice of caution

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09/14/2010

scratch I was going through my email this morning and came across my email newsletter from Ken Kirschenbaum. Today’s edition follows the theme of enhanced call verification and verification, in general. I found this edition particularly interesting because of a missive from Bart Didden over at U.S.A. Central Station Alarm Corp.

I’ve blogged about some of what Bart’s had to say in Ken’s forum before. Today Bart’s talking about verified alarms, in general and about Videofied, specifically. I’ve written a lot about both. The thrust of Bart’s address is that it’s perhaps self-defeating to market video (or audio, I assume) verified intrusion detection systems as eliciting a higher priority response from police than a normal intrusion detection system.

Here’s Bart’s entry on verified alarms:

Ken,

I am happy as anyone else for the success of Videofied and yes we monitor that platform in our office. But I am concerned about the message that your e-mail distributes and the unintended consequence for the 30 million systems that have been installed and are in service in which the vast majority is doing what they were designed to do, detect the actions of an unknown person or persons.

My direct issue with the message and content is that I believe that Mr. Jentoft is saying that those 30 million systems are sub-standard or in Lee Jones (another way left of center self proclaimed industry professional who pontificates) words, frauds.

While I believe that we should embrace new technology, we can not place ourselves in such a position that we devalue the more traditional technology that was just installed. We should not allow a new class of customer to be created to receive a higher level of response service from municipal authorities as a sales tool when a properly designed and installed system without video is just if not more effective for the purpose at hand, detection.

Members of the industry and your list SHOULD NOT endorse or perpetuate this marketing scheme all at the detriment of the system they installed yesterday or last year that was not a Videofied system.

Bart’s letter is in response to an earlier posting from Keith:

Ken,

This just came out in the magazine of the National Sheriffs Assn. I don’t think that law enforcement has ever endorsed an alarm product before, at least not officially.

I thought it might interest you,

In any case, I enjoy your morning reports.

Thank you for your support.

I see Bart’s point. And I see Keith’s point. The problem, though, is that the police generally ARE, in fact giving higher priority to an alarm that’s verified. Not just by Videofied, though. Most of the law enforcement officials to whom I’ve spoken on the topic admit that they’re in the business of apprehending criminals, so if an alarm signal comes in that assures there’s suspicious activity complete with a perp onsite, then the alarm is not just an alarm, it becomes a crime in progress, and police will respond with higher priority.

Bart is certainly not the only industry exec I’ve spoken with who questions the wisdom of marketing a verified system as better than a traditional system. When I was down in Dallas putting my recent market trends piece on verified alarms together, Mitch Clarke over at Monitronics, Ty Davis, formerly with Southwest Dispatch, and Stefan Rayner, Grant Graham and David Steinbrunner with NMC all expressed concern about devaluing the traditional intrusion system. I understand where they’re all coming from. I feel like this is a debate we’ve seen before and will see a lot of in the future.

The problem, though is that it’s not about Videofied or Sonitrol vs. traditional intrusion detection, it’s about a verified crime in progress vs. something may or may not be going on… If I can tell a police officer that I just saw someone break a window at the neighbor’s house and climb through, said officer is going to react more quickly and with higher priority than if a motion detector went off and we have no idea what set it off.

Mike Jagger over at Provident Security sends his security officers to every alarm he gets at his central station. That’s how Provident verifies its alarms.

I’ve also discussed police response to alarms before. The truth is that police are not required to respond to alarms. It’s a courtesy they pay to a private business. Their job is not to bring value to what a security company sells, it’s to uphold the law, apprehend bad guys and deter lawbreaking in the future.

I’m curious to hear what you, my readers, think? Is there a way to promote the benefits of a verified system without devaluing a non-verified, traditional system? Should all systems incorporate some kind of verification? Chime in and let me know your thoughts.

Comments

Of course, if you have a video clip that shows a guy breaking a window and climbing through, that is important information to pass on the the dispatch center and it will no doubt get a quicker police response.  In reality, however, how often is this perfect scenario going to happen.  In most instances, the body you may see pass through the door cannot be so easily identified as the bad guy.  There is no way you could determine from that video that there was criminal activity going on.  And, as with all systems, we find that "user error" is a frequent contributing factor and the guy going through the door was the employee who failed to turn the system off before entering.  While video can be a nice, and sometimes effective, additional  bit of information - it, like audio, most often does not prove that you have criminal activity.  Video - except for the instance where you see the bad guy break and enter - is not a replacement for ECV.

Hey Ron,

You raise a good point. Even video and audio or eyewitness accounts can not unequivocally PROVE that a crime is happening. But what is true is that police will respond more quickly if you can say, "Yes I see someone there" or "I can hear loud banging on the premises and there's supposed to be no one there."

Honestly, it doesn't matter if the system proves there really is a crime happening or not... the argument is about whether or not a system should promote the fact that police respond more quickly when there's evidence of people being where they're not supposed to be. And the police I've spoken with have said that it has always been so: If you can tell them you see someone there where they're not supposed to be, they will respond more quickly because that's more information leading to a greater probability of catching someone doing something wrong.

It seems to me, it's got nothing to do with the technologies involved.

The first thing Bart will tell you when arguing his point is that he has been around since the seventees. What people like Keith Jentoft know is that unfortunately he is still there and he would have the rest of us stay there with him.
Of course any system that verifies an event by either sequential zones triggered, 2 way audio, still images or live video has to be given priority over a "traditional" system. Surely it is common sense. The police in the UK adopted a policy of attending confirmed alarms only over 20 years ago and it has worked very well.
Video verification is new. We are all still learning, but we can't let people like Bart hold us back.

Hey Steve,

As always, thanks for contributing. Yeah, you raise an interesting point re: response policy in the UK. I did a story a while ago about AD Group setting up <a href="http://www.securitysystemsnews.com/index.php?p=article&amp;id=ss201004Xs... rel="nofollow">remote monitoring in the US</a> from one of their UK-based monitoring centers. I spoke with AD Group's Pauline Norstrom at the time and she discussed the <a href="http://www.securitysystemsnews.com/index.php?p=article&amp;id=ss201004Yv... rel="nofollow">UK's response priority policies</a> and said much the same thing. Basically, if it isn't verified, it probably won't be responded to.

Again, thanks for the comment.

We have to be careful about how we use the word "verified."  As we know, the proponents for not responding to burglar alarm signals call it VR, Verified Response, which essentially means that they will respond after it is verified that a crime has taken place - i.e., they respond to a crime scene.  No one, including Bart, is saying that video cannot make a positive contribution to crime prevention and, yes, apprehension.  The fact remains, however,  that what you see or hear is, more often than not, not a crime in progress but user error.  Up to 80% of unnecessary police dispatches is the result of human error and this fact does not go away with the addition of video alone.  ECV remains the greatest treatment for the User Error ailment, and perhaps what Bart is saying is let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Hey Ron,

I admit, I don't have any solid numbers, but my guess according to the reporting I've done is that you're probably not too far off with the percentage of false police dispatches being due to user error. User error is definitely the most common cause of false dispatch. And for that reason, I completely agree that ECV is a valuable tool.

I also agree that the baby should not be thrown out with the bath water. The truth does remain, though that if you as a monitoring center provide a video clip of a person at an alarmed premises where there is supposed to be no one there, police will give higher priority response to that alarm than if the alarm was just a single zone motion sensor trip. Granted, the police response will most likely uncover that it WAS user error and the person onsite in the clip was probably just an employee who didn't know the password to cancel the alarm when the operator initiated ECV. In that case the video clip would not do a single thing to combat false dispatch. That's true.

I think, however (if I understand Bart's letter correctly) it sounds like he's saying is that it's irresponsible to say that police give higher priority to an alarm if it has some sort of video/audio/eyewitness verification in place. My feeling is that whether or not it's not irresponsible, it's true... the whole false dispatch/user error argument aside, the question is whether or not a company should be using the TRUTH that police will respond with higher priority to video/audio/eye witness alerts as a marketing hook. Does using that truth as a marketing tool set up a disparate dichotomy?

What does everyone else think?

I had an answer to your question, but I spent that long trying to find out what "disparate dichotomy" meant that I forgot what I was going to say ;-)
Oh yes, I was going to say that I don't have a problem with companies quoting a higher priority response for verified alarms. Anything over and above that, might be pushing it a bit.

Thanks Steve :-).

I think I would have to agree with Keith here. While certainly not to disparage any particular product or type of alarm service, it seems clear that municipalities and their police departments will place a higher priority on verified alarms over unverified alarms, for the reasons you state.

In fact, as we all know, an increasing number of cities will not respond at all to unverified alarms. And, the more "robust" the verification, likely the more robust the response. A video clip of an intruder in a premises is likely going to be more compelling to law enforcement than audio, and audio more compelling than a signal from a motion sensor.

My opinion only.

Eric Griffin
Attorney