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Verified response policies and ordinances continue to gain attention across the United States. Beginning this month, SDM magazine will bring you regular updates of the issue. In a collaboration with the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC), which works with law enforcement, industry and public officials to reduce alarm dispatches, SDM provides key phrases, definitions and explanations of verified response, along with alternatives to verified response. In future issues, as a part of the Verified Response series, SDM and SIAC will provide an updated table of verified response locations.
Of the roughly 18,000 law enforcement jurisdictions nationwide, 24 have adopted some form of verified response* to alarm signals. Verified or non-response can take various forms.
One form of verified response is where the police will not go to a burglar alarm call unless there is proof that an actual criminal event occurred, is occurring or was at least attempted. Currently, 12 jurisdictions have adopted this by policy or ordinance.
According to Stan Martin, executive director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC), because the majority of non-response policies have been implemented in the last few years, it is too early to tell what the full effect of such a policy might be. SIAC works with law enforcement, industry and public officials to reduce alarm dispatches.
Some law enforcement agencies have elected to use a different form of verified response known as a policy of broadcast and file*. At press time, 12 jurisdictions had adopted this process by which police accept all alarm calls from the alarm companies. A police unit is assigned to respond to alarms where there is eyewitness verification of a crime in progress. The unverified alarm information is broadcast over the radio to all police units, and available officers patrolling that area decide whether to respond.
Acceptable forms of verification differ among municipalities. Some require eyewitness, in-person verification, verification by an independent third party such as a private security guard, or â€œverification by other electronic means*.â€ Other electronic means typically allows for video verification*, listen-in technology, or cross zoning* as a substitute to guard response. These technologies were generally developed for the commercial market rather than the typical residential alarm system. Factors such as high cost, privacy issues and lack of industry standards make them a concern for some in the alarm industry, according to SIAC.
What Can You Do?â€œThere have been multiple occasions when a law enforcement agency is creating or revising an ordinance that only one side of the story is presented to the media, the public and the elected officials,â€ Martin said. He said that local alarm companies need to forge relationships with police and policymakers, and educate them on alternatives to verified or non-response.
â€œIf there is no relationship with the local industry, the police likely will not be aware of other alternatives much less who they could speak with concerning the issues. Sometimes, even where a strong working relationship has existed, verified response can still be considered and even adopted,â€ Martin said.
According to Martin, to understand the process of a policy or ordinance, alarm companies need to understand the issues driving it. Alarm companies can ask themselves:
- Has the local security industry formed a working relationship with local police chiefs, alarm unit managers, and city or county councils?
- What are the current ordinances and are they effective?
- Is the local alarm industry organized and does it have a strong local or state association?
Responsibility lies with the security industry to help ensure the latest information is available and to keep the lines of communication open between alarm companies and city officials, Martin said.
What Now?In the past 10 years the security industry has made significant commitments to reducing dispatch requests through equipment design changes, the adoption of several equipment standards and constant education and the raising of awareness of the industry, law enforcement and alarm users. Today, rather than inferior equipment, more often improper installation, sensor misapplication and user education can be a culprit in increased alarms.
One recommendation for a long-term remedy toward reducing user error in burglar alarm systems is requiring the use of a control panel utilizing the CP-01 standard. The ANSI (American National Standard Institute approved Security Industry Association) SIA CP-01 Control Panel Standard, which may be updated from time to time. It details recommended design features for security system control panels and their associated arming and disarming devices to reduce the incidence of false alarms. Control panels built and tested to this standard by Underwriters Laboratories, or other nationally recognized testing organizations, are marked to state: â€œDesign evaluated in accordance with SIA CP-01 Control Panel Standard Features for False Alarm Reduction.â€
However, considering the legacy issue associated with the more than 30 million systems already installed, a diligent effort by the industry is required to upgrade older or malfunctioning systems as soon as practical. Replacing the most frequent â€œabusersâ€ first can speed up the overall effectiveness of this.
In addition, according Martin, alarm companies should commit to verified response alternatives such as enhanced call verification (ECV)* for all of their customers as soon as possible â€“ instead of waiting for laws to mandate it.
SIAC offers the following recommendations for alarm companies committed to reducing false alarms:
- Utilize ECV & CP-01 control panels and thoroughly train your customers.
- Get to know your elected officials and law enforcement management. Participate in local public safety fairs and events. Be proactive and let them know you are in the community and there to make a responsible contribution.
- Work with the local alarm unit to include alarm awareness information stuffers with the water bill.
- Work with your commercial accounts to provide specialized training that they can incorporate into new hire training classes or use as refreshers during company team meetings or human resource functions.
- Contact your customers each time they have a false alarm to ensure they know it occurred and why.
- Each time you speak with a customer, always ask if they have any changes they need to make to alarm site information and emergency contacts.
- Ensure that your customerâ€™s backup batteries are replaced as per the manufacturerâ€™s recommendations.
This series is collaboration between SDM and the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC), a non-profit association formed to deal with false dispatch management. Opinions in this series are not meant to reflect those of SDM magazine or its staff. For more information relating to these issues, visit SIACâ€™s Web site at www.siacinc.org.
Side Bar: Differences between Ordinances and PoliciesOrdinances are laws that are passed by local legislators. Passing an ordinance requires a process that includes public hearings and a vote by the elected body. The public is allowed to make comments prior to the ordinance becoming effective.
Policies are typically issued by the law enforcement agency and do not require approval by either the elected officials or the public.
Side Bar: Success Stories of Cities without Verified ResponseOrdinances that came about through active participation between law enforcement, the alarm industry and alarm users can be a successful alternative to verified response. On the following pages are a few examples of such ordinances and policies, and include cities that have never considered verified response and cities that investigated it but, ultimately, decided against it.
City officials in Boulder, Colo., were looking at verified response as a means of reducing response to alarm dispatches. After meeting several times with local security company representatives, Mark R. Beckner, Boulder police chief, agreed to test the effectiveness of Enhanced Call Verification or ECV* before making any decisions about a policy. ECV is a monitoring procedure requiring that a minimum of two calls be made prior to making an alarm dispatch request. After a six-month trial period tracking several alarm companies that volunteered to use ECV across the board, Beckner found that ECV had a significant impact on reducing false dispatches in Boulder. An ECV policy was adopted and implemented on June 1, 2003. According to SIACâ€™s comparison, January to June dispatches for 2003 and 2005 had a 62 percent reduction in dispatches.
Montgomery County, Md.
After adopting an alarm management program that includes guidelines, and permit and fee structures, Montgomery County has had a significant false alarm reduction since 1994. Norma Beaubien, the Montgomery County police department director of false alarm reduction section stated, â€œWe have seen a steady annual reduction in alarm dispatches for over 10 years even though the number of installed systems has more than doubled during that time.â€ Beaubien believes that a consistently enforced alarm ordinance, along with a cooperative effort between the alarm industry and alarm users is key to Montgomery Countyâ€™s drop in false alarms.
The following 2005 numbers reflect activity since the current Montgomery County ordinance was adopted in 1994:
- Overall false alarm reduction of 61.6 percent since 1994
- Overall increase in number of alarms (34,214 more alarm users) installed since 1994
- Overall false alarm rate* for 2005 residential = 0.18; commercial = 0.86; combined = 0.26.
In 2003, officials in Vacaville, Calif., were committed to adopting a verified response ordinance. However, in December 2004, after Lt. Craig Rossiter of the Vacaville Police Department worked with the security industry to come up with an alternative, a revised ordinance was passed that included ECV but not verified response. According to Rossiter, since implementing the ordinance in March 2005, the city has experienced more than a 20 percent drop in alarm dispatches.
Rossiter still endorses verified response, however, and said that there continues to be problems with alarm companyâ€™s ECV compliance and ensuring initial alarm-user registrations. The city plans to conduct a full cost study analysis beginning in March 2006, to evaluate the impact of the first full year of the ordinance.
Side Bar: Issues to Consider with Verified ResponseSIAC recommends that the following possible issues be considered by all parties involved in a verified response or non-response proposal:
- Adopting a non-response policy could result in diminished effectiveness of alarm systems meant to deter crime. One thought is that burglars spend less time inside a property, knowing that police are coming.
- To date, according to SIAC, virtually every city that adopts verified response sees an initial increase in burglaries.
- Consider if there are enough guard companies in your area willing to take on alarm response. If so, will guard companies offer alarm response with well-trained responders and how quickly can they increase manpower? Some cities have given alarm companies between 30 to 60 days, or less, to comply.
- Consider if guard companies may not cover all areas of a large metropolitan city, particularly high-crime areas.
Side Bar: Key Terms
- Audio Verification (AV)
- The transfer of sounds from the protected premises to the monitoring company, as a result of activation of one or more devices, in an attempt to confirm the validity of the alarm signal.
- Broadcast and File
- A police officer will only be assigned to respond to a burglar alarm if there is eyewitness verification of a crime in progress. Otherwise, the alarm is broadcast to all police units and no car will be obligated to respond â€“ generally, within 15 minutes to one hour. If no officer has responded to the broadcast, it is closed with no further action.
- Cross Zoning (CZ)
- A technical term utilized within control panels that requires two different zones to be tripped within a specified time period (usually 30 seconds) before the panel produces a valid single alarm signal. This feature is used to deal with specific or unusual conditions within a limited protected area. It is not meant to be used or applied as a general fix for false alarms or mandated by ordinance for all systems. The term is sometimes confused with â€œMultiple Tripâ€ requirements â€“ see entry.
- Enhanced Call Verification (ECV)
- A monitoring procedure requiring that a minimum of two calls be made prior to making an alarm dispatch request. The two calls must be made to different phone numbers â€“ the first to the protected premise; the second call to the cell phone of the property owner or manager, or another number where a responsible party typically can be reached.
- Eyewitness Verification (EV)
- Physical verification by the owner or manager, designated person or a guard response service that an actual criminal event occurred, is occurring or was at least attempted.
- False Alarm Rate
- The total number of dispatches deemed false for a defined period of time, typically 12 months, divided by the total number of alarm systems during that same time period. This tells you the average number of false alarms per alarm system location for that period.
- Full Cost Recovery
- The alarm permit fees cover the cost of administering the alarm ordinance and the response fee charged for each alarm response by a police officer that is deemed false.
- Multiple Trips (MT)
- Activation of a zone or zones of the alarm system causing more than one signal to be received by the monitoring company. This term is sometimes confused with Cross Zoning.
- Verification by Other Electronic Means (VOEM)
- Video verification, listen-in technology, cross zoning or multiple-trip activation.
- Verified Response
- Law enforcement will not respond to a burglar alarm without eyewitness verification of a crime in progress.
- Video Verification (VV)
- The transfer of video images to the monitoring company reflecting conditions existing at the protected premises at the time an alarm was activated.
- The separation of detection devices into areas of protection to indicate the general location from which an alarm system signal is transmitted. (For example: Zone 1 â€“ Front Door Contact; Zone 2 â€“ Front Entry Motion Detector.)