Making no-response lemonade

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10/25/2007
After 24 hours getting back to the East Coast from the CSAA show in Hawaii, it's ironic that this article about the consequences of Fontana, California's verified response policy should come across my desk (that desk being in the Newark airport). Wednesday, I sat on a panel with other journalists and was asked if I thought verified response would take hold nationally. I said it was my opinion that public relations nightmares with burglars confronting store- and homeowners in the act of verifying alarms (as happened here in Dallas) would make an increase of fines much more likely, which is the trend we're seeing nationally with our alarm ordinance watch column. I think this article backs me up. Note: Last year the Fontana Police Department responded to more than 8,500 burglar alarm calls -- an average of about 24 a day. More than 99 percent of them proved to be false alarms -- a tremendous waste of money and resources, said Lone Star Security Regional Manager Bruce Boyer. Notwithstanding the overuse of the m-dash in those sentences -- fair enough. Boyer asked: Why have high-trained, highly-skilled police officers responding to burglary alarms when their time could be put to much better use? This, however, is not the next logical question. Why aren't they instead asking how to eliminate the false alarms? Why aren't they talking about enhanced call verification or a CP-01 standard panel? They probably do that later, right? Not so much. Anyway, Fontanta passed a verified response law that went effective Oct. 1, and here are some opinions: And that's important to Gerry Herrera, storeowner and manager of Sonora Tire Shop. "We want a security company coming out and checking on the place," he said. Makes sense. I don't want to go burglar-hunting either. For Mini Perez, Sonora's chief financial officer, the P.D.'s change of policy makes sense. "It's less taxpayer expense," she said. "It was a waste of time for the police coming out. It should be the responsibility of the alarm company to provide the service. Police have better things to do." Aack! Are you people reading this? The police have better things to do than respond to alarms and make sure people are safe? That kind of opinion on the part of the city can only be the result of terrible mismanagement by local alarm companies. Sorry guys. How can it get to the point where you're officially the boys that cry wolf? It's no wonder Lone Star Security has been able to capitalize by offering to "come in and use the existing alarm system" and add on an in-house guard service. (Which is code for come in and get people to break their contract, right? Not that I'm saying I don't understand the business model, just trying to be clear.) Here's Boyer again: "The Police Department is right. It's the alarm company's responsibility to investigate," he said. "The Police Department has better use for its officers. Cops are highly trained to do dozens of jobs. We are trained to do one thing well -- respond." This guy has completely won the marketing battle. By framing the question as, "Do you want to waste police officers' time?," he's gotten the answer he's looking for: "Of course not. Can we pay you to verify our alarms?" He talks about being partners with the police department, and there is some sense to his policy of alerting the cops that they're responding, kind of a back door dispatch. That's a good thing, but I'm troubled by this part: The gun stays in the holster and only comes out when an officer faces deadly force. And that deadly force must have the ability to deliver it against an officer or customer, said Boyer. "If the deadly force is across the street holding a knife, the gun stays in the holster," he said. "Our job is to investigate alarm calls. If there's criminal activity, we call the cops. We are not Rambo." Well, not only are you not Rambo, you are also not a police officer. Let's hope deadly force is never used, but it's hard to rely on hope in that potential situation. You think people are upset about Blackwater shooting innocent Iraqis (I gave you an Irish link, for non-US perspective)? What happens to a community when a private security company shoots a kid reaching for a cell phone? If a police officer does that, it's one thing. In this case he was placed on leave. I think it's a very different situation if it's a private security officer, where the city doesn't have recourse and the company is not accountable to the citizens. All of this tells me that alarm companies have to make sure their communities don't get to the point where they think they're just crying wolf, and they need to work on programs like those developed by SIAC to work with states on enhanced call verification and CP-01.