Verified response policies and ordinances continue to gain attention across the United States. SDM will bring you regular updates of the issue. In 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. The coverage that follows includes an article about statewide legislation from executive director of SIAC, Stan Martin.

Madison Police Chief Changes VR Ordinance

Set to take full effect in January of 2007, Madison’s verified response policy — which, when passed was to cover both commercial and residential burglar alarms — is already seeing some changes. Noble Wray, Madison’s chief of police, sent a letter to the city council citing feedback from Madison residents.

“Homeowners who maintain residential burglary alarms have raised concerns regarding the VR ordinance,” he stated. “Although residential alarms have proven to be almost exclusively false, we understand the apprehension expressed by homeowners regarding police not responding to residential alarms.”

Wray went on to say that recognizing this concern, he will make two adjustments to police response to alarms. According to Wray, city police officers will continue to respond to residential burglar alarms, as they did prior to the adoption of the Madison VR ordinance.

In addition, the police department will implement a “broadcast and file” protocol for commercial alarms, rather than strictly VR. For Madison, broadcast and file means that if a mechanically activated commercial burglar alarm signal, which has been verified, is broadcast to officers working in the area of the alarm location, the officers can elect to respond to the alarm if they are able. Police officers’ response is generally based on the total circumstances of the incident. Wray explained that Madison police will continue to respond to any human-activated alarm — commercial or residential.

Burleson Passes New Burglar Alarm Ordinance

In its first alarm ordinance change in more than 20 years, Burleson, Texas, approved a new alarm ordinance preserving police response while aggressively cutting dispatches to false alarms. The ordinance tracks a Texas state law that allows cities to charge higher fees for alarm permits and higher fines for alarm users who generate multiple false alarms.

“Burleson is replacing an ordinance that is over two decades old and has been ineffective in reducing false dispatches,” said Chris Russell, president of the North Texas Alarm Association. “The NTAA believes the new ordinance with stiffer fines and permit revocation for false alarm abusers will be major factors in accomplishing the mayor’s goal of reducing total alarms by 50 percent over the next 12 months.”

According to city police records, several alarm users have over 50 alarm dispatches with no evidence of a crime. Another important aspect of the ordinance is cost recovery. Permit fees will increase and fines for false alarm abusers will rise. 

The Burleson program will include additional efforts by police and the alarm industry by adding a public information program and alarm user classes to educate consumers about the importance of properly utilizing alarm systems to curtail unnecessary police dispatches. “The City Council is to be commended for utilizing the best available practices in reducing alarm calls to police,” continued Russell. “We are pleased to be partners with a city that is keeping police response to citizens along with using effective tools to reduce false dispatches.”

The ordinance aims to not only reduce total alarm dispatches, but also to help Burleson with cost recovery for administration and response to alarms. Fees for alarms permits will be renewable every January with a residential fee of $50.00 and a commercial alarm fee of $100.00.

In addition new fines will be imposed for false alarm abusers. Alarm users will be allowed three “free” false dispatches.  After the third false dispatch, fines will be imposed from $50.00 up to $100.00.  After 10 false dispatches, police may revoke the permit and have the option to stop responding.

Palm Beach Country Reduces False Alarms

Palm Beach County in Florida has shown a reduction in false dispatches following a statewide law governing burglar alarm response. The law calls for Florida dispatchers to use Enhanced Call Verification (ECV), the practice of calling two phone numbers before dispatching police to an alarm. When implemented on July 1, 2006, Florida became one of the first states in the country to require such a practice. Since the implementation of ECV, according to statistics, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Department reduced its dispatches from 12,712 between October 2005 and December 2005 to 8,802 during the same time frame in 2006.

“We made some additional changes to our alarm policy, but I’d estimate that 80 percent of our dispatch reduction is attributed to ECV,” said Palm Beach County Deputy Charlie Mosher. “The change has allowed our officers to spend more time in trouble spots and become more proactive on their patrols.” According to the Alarm Association of Florida, most counties in the state are showing a reduction in false dispatches.

Alarm Management Issues Go Statewide

Utilizing state legislation to reduce alarm dispatches and maintain police response is a growing trend throughout the United States. A year ago, Rick Parry, Texas governor, signed into law an alarm bill establishing a framework for permits, fines, new equipment standards (SIA CP-01) and a requirement for public hearings before cities can consider suspending response.

Within the past several months, three Texas cities — Irving, Burleson and North Richland Hills — all have either passed a new alarm ordinance that follows the outline of the Texas law, have introduced such an ordinance, or plan to introduce one. They join a list of North Texas communities that adopted similar changes last year.

Texas is not the only state making progress. Florida, for example, adopted Enhanced Call Verification (ECV) on a statewide basis in July, as did Virginia more than a year ago, requiring monitoring centers to place two calls to a customer to determine if a break-in has occurred. If neither call yields a response, then police can be dispatched.

Tennessee is expected to follow suit in 2007, with the industry pushing for statewide implementation of ECV. Other states considering legislation or working on statewide initiatives are Delaware and Massachusetts.

What does this all mean? Alarm ordinance activity is going from a local or countywide issue, to one with implications at the state level. Rather than addressing each ordinance on a city-by-city or county-by-county basis, the alarm industry is increasingly seeing the value in coming together to push for statewide support to reduce alarm dispatch calls.

It only makes sense. If alarm companies can negotiate with state legislators on an agreement that elected officials believe is a workable solution, and the alarm industry and police associations are involved in developing the provisions — a creative consensus document can be the result. Rather than having to re-fight battles in jurisdiction after jurisdiction, the alarm industry can use laws like the one in Texas to go to mayors, city council members and police chiefs to propose using it in a local jurisdiction.

This trend toward state legislation follows activity in other states that have established alarm management committees to bring law enforcement together with alarm companies to find ways to manage alarms more effectively and reduce false dispatches. These committees have been formed in Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama, South Carolina and Virginia.

Sidebar: 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 – 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 “Multiple Trip” requirements – 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 – 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.

Zone– 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 – Front Door Contact; Zone 2 – Front Entry Motion Detector.)