N.Y. Legislative Initiative Sparks Debate
A drafted bill in the state of New York has garnered much attention and zealous opinions from the alarm industry in the past few months. Article 6-E was developed by a committee of volunteers from the New York Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (NYBFAA) and would require all central stations to become licensed in the state in order to provide monitoring services. The licensing application would require fingerprinting of all operators and central station staff, a provision for potential State-required competency examinations and continued training among others.
Work on the current wording of 6-E began in 2009 and after posting the language on the NYBFAA website for public comment, the association voted to forge ahead with the draft in June 2010. Progress was halted when the bill’s sponsor, State Senator Brian Foley was not reelected. In November of 2010, the NYBFAA board of directors decided to pick up the issue once again and find a new sponsor. At that point, John Lombardi, president of CIA Security and a member of the drafting committee, related, “all of a sudden there was a really big reaction from the alarm industry. We decided to listen and entertain all public comments.” At the quarterly NYBFAA board of directors meeting held on Feb. 10, 2011, time was allotted to discuss Article 6-E.
At the meeting, Bill Cooper, industry liaison for ADT, observed an “overwhelming” opposition to 6-E. “The general consensus was that it was opposed very strongly by most people in the room,” Cooper noted. “There were no major central monitoring station and few that have dealer networks in favor.”
Lombardi noted a strong reaction as well, though he believes completely rejecting the idea of licensing could be detrimental to the industry in the end. He commented, “The recurring theme was ‘no more legislation.’ That message came across loud and clear. In my opinion, the question is are we addressing the problem dead on or acting like ostriches, putting our heads in the ground and ignoring our surroundings?”
Though some left with the impression their views would be largely ignored, Joseph Hayes, NYBFAA president, issued a statement on February 17 saying that during an extended discussion that took place after the open portion of the meeting adjourned, the association came to the decision to halt its search for a sponsor to replace Foley and to take some time to fully evaluate its next step by evaluating comment letters, polling NYBFAA members, and contacting different groups such as law enforcement, fire service and code officials, SIAC and FARA, various consumer or end user organizations and other state associations with existing alarm monitoring licensing regulations. NYBFAA’s statement also acknowledged the need to seek out details on CSAA’s national alarm monitoring initiatives. 6-E isn’t dead yet, but the association has vowed to continue and expand dialogue with the industry.
Lombardi told SDM that the bill was developed as a “wish list” to improve central station operations as well as to be mindful of the Senator’s needs. “[Foley] was looking at it as consumer protection and a homeland security issue. So we came up with fingerprint checks on people handling confidential information. It’s similar to article 6-D, the alarm installer license. The purpose is to make sure you don’t have a felon working for you. When the committee got it, we said let’s take all the ills of the central station industry and make it a wish list legislation of everything that’s ever gone wrong in a central station.
There has been much heated debate in the industry and a fair amount of “he-said she-said” as to the origins of the legislation — whether it came from Foley, a local dealer or the NYBFAA itself — and how the source affects its validity. To Russell MacDonnell, chairman and chief executive officer of Rapid Response Monitoring Services Inc., Syracuse, N.Y., it is important to stay focused on the bigger picture: “This industry is all small business owners and they tend to get passionate about issues and passion sometimes exceeds civility. I believe in reading the document.”
Jeff Atkins, president of Rapid Response Monitoring, has voiced a strong opposition to this legislation, noting that there are already laws and codes in place to regulate the alarm industry and that a free market unhindered by heavy-handed legislation will provide the best and safest services. “Let the dealer and the consumers decide what central station they want to use. That kind of competition is why the industry has gotten where it’s at today.”
MacDonnell highlighted that the state of New York has a $10-billion-dollar deficit and will not be able to enforce or develop standards as the bill indicates. “The state cannot enforce even current laws in the book! They don’t have resources to go find unlicensed companies that do business.” The result, MacDonnell and others believe, will be that an unnecessary cost for the central stations that do choose to comply will get passed down to consumers and will prevent fair competition.
Morgan Hertel, vice president and general manager at Mace Central Station Monitoring Services in Anaheim, Calif., agreed, citing licensing enforcement problems in California in a letter to the NYBFAA. He explained that although California has extensive regulations for the alarm industry including licensing requirements for central stations, the state does not have the resources to enforce these regulations and several out-of-state monitoring companies provide their services in California without licenses. “Should this legislation get passed all that will happen is that the good guys will go through the process and the bad guys won’t,” Hertel wrote.
MacDonnell added, “The committee put a lot of work into this; and they’re well-intentioned. But if you analyze it and the state’s capability to deliver, it isn’t viable. It’s admirable for companies to want to raise the standards but that won’t be accomplished.”
“We profile, drug test, and background check every employee before hiring,” Atkins said. “It’s redundant work for us. And when you’re a large center it’s not cost-effective.” Rapid Response would have to individually process its 300 employees under 6-E. ADT estimated it would need to fingerprint more than 20,000.
Lombardi explained, “The logic is if you had to be licensed in another state, such as California, there may be an additional filing fee but no fingerprinting to be done again…There are 17 states in the country that already have legislation and 100 jurisdictions that have legislation. We created a wish list to develop reciprocity.”
Several companies, however, have voiced concern over assuming every state already requiring licensing, or any considering it, will jump on the reciprocity bandwagon or even accept another state’s procedures for fingerprinting. According to Cooper, hopes that this program will promote reciprocity across state lines will not likely come to fruition. “Getting all states to individually pass the same or even comparable legislation for the purposes of reciprocity is not feasible.”
Among the comment letters sent to the NYBFAA, the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) and several multi-state companies have expressed interest in a federal legislative initiative rather than individual state laws. Cooper said that idea is already in the works: “I absolutely believe in a national approach. I’m working with the Alarm Industry Communications Committee, composed of representatives of the CSAA, Electronic Security Association (ESA), the Security Industry Association (SIA) and major alarm companies and manufacturers on creating federal legislation that works to the benefit of all parties, especially our customers. National licensing rather than state-by-state reciprocity might provide a solution that works for the industry and doesn’t punish customers.” — By Sabrina Gasulla, Associate Editor