San Jose's non-response policy catches alarm industry off guard

Holiday 'surprise' has companies and owners assessing potential costs
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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

SAN JOSE, Calif.—The police department’s new non-response policy for unverified alarms, announced the week before Christmas and put into effect Jan. 1, ignores data on enhanced call verification and rolls out a “welcome mat” for burglars, alarm industry officials say.

The San Jose Police Department announced the policy change on its website in a posting titled “Verified Response Protocol Information.” Citing a 2008 department study that found that more than 98 percent of alarm calls in the city were false alarms—at a cost to taxpayers of $662,000—the department stated that it “will no longer respond to alarms solely on the request of alarm monitoring companies.”

Jerry Lenander, spokesman for the California Alarm Association (CAA), said the announcement took the industry “completely by surprise.” He said industry officials had been working with city police on false alarm management but that they received no notification of the policy change.

“One of our members saw it online,” Lenander told Security Systems News. “There was no direct notification or communication with the industry. … They sent a postcard postmarked Dec. 21 to business owners and homeowners who have alarms. That was the notice that they gave to citizens.”

Lenander said the holidays had made it difficult for the CAA to inform all of its members about the new policy, but the group was beginning to hear concerns from the field.

“As a public safety policy, there’s just concern that if you completely eliminate the (police) response and do it without the opportunity for citizens to make arrangements, that’s not a good situation,” he said. “I spoke to someone last week who offers patrol services in that area. He said if you’re going to eliminate police response and tell the citizens to go and get private response, just to gear up to that in a city of that size might take up to six months to build the infrastructure and have enough resources in place.”

In its Web posting, the police department states that it will continue to respond to all panic and robbery alarms. It will also respond to “verified” alarms, with verification coming in the form of audio, video or eyewitness accounts that a crime is occurring or has occurred.

Lenander said that will prompt some people to choose to respond to their own alarms, which carries risks for business owners and homeowners alike.

“That’s definitely not the best way to go,” he said. “Police will eventually say the alarm companies have to go (to verify a crime), not the citizens, but this is a private business so there’s going to be added cost.”

Sharon Elder, an 18-year police liaison for the Orange County (Calif.) Alarm Association, said the new policy is similar to one adopted in Dallas several years ago. It has since been repealed because “it just doesn’t provide good policing,” she said.

“(San Jose’s) chief of police is rolling out the welcome mat for burglaries in his city, and I would imagine that the citizens will rise up and say that’s unacceptable,” Elder said. “This is a very unfortunate situation for the community.”

The police department states on its website that the policy will remain under review and will be modified as necessary to provide residents “with the best possible service while allowing for the optimal allocation of police resources.” Spokesmen did not return calls for comment.

Elder said the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC) and the CAA have been working with California cities on adopting provisions of SIAC’s model alarm ordinance, including enhanced call verification (ECV) and CP-01 equipment standards. She said the police chief in Anaheim recently made the decision to work with the SIAC model instead of moving to non-response.

“The frightening thing is that SIAC and the California Alarm Association have mountains of data where (the program) is working nationwide to seriously reduce false calls for service,” Elder said. “Unfortunately, San Jose only looked at the perspective of slashing a line item on the budget versus the majority of United States law enforcement, which still considers good policing to include responding to alarms responsibly using the SIAC model.”
 
Lenander said the 2008 study cited by the San Jose Police Department raises concerns because it does not provide an up-to-date assessment involving ECV, which he said has made “a significant difference” in reducing the number of service calls. He also said a study conducted by the Los Angeles Police Department found that if it eliminated officer response to all alarms, there would be no tangible savings in “redeployable” resources—meaning no reduction in other crimes.

“We know that the number of false alarms is not a relevant measurement when making public safety policy,” he said. “The accepted standard is calls, alarm calls. That’s where enhanced call verification has come into play. … We’ve been looking at it from the California standpoint for about 10 years and studying it, and verified response is not a good policy from a public safety standpoint.”