Akron implements alarm verification policy
AKRON, Ohio—A new policy set to take effect here in March requires security alarms to verify criminal activity prior to police response.
Like similar actions in other cities, the policy has its camps of proponents and detractors, and its reception puts into sharp relief some competing philosophies about how to manage false alarms and provide the most effective strategies for response.
Not only that: The debate raises fundamental questions about the value proposition of alarm systems in general. Are they designed to deter crime? Are they designed to stop it in progress and boost police apprehensions? Should they do both?
The policy in Akron, implemented by the city’s police department, was put in place to address a 98 percent false alarm rate, according to a report from the Associated Press. In the policy, the basic criteria for what qualifies as a verified alarm include confirmation of an intrusion or attempted intrusion by a security agency representative; visual account from a neighbor or owner of an intrusion occurring; live video depicting an intrusion; live reliable audio confirming an intrusion is occurring; and a perimeter alarm breach in conjunction with an internal motion detector breach.
The Security Industry Alarm Coalition, an industry organization that deals with alarm management matters and tracks alarm ordinances around the country, takes the position that a model ordinance, as opposed to an alarm verification policy, is the best route for cities to take.
According to the organization, 30 public safety agencies have adopted some form of verified response since 1998. Stan Martin, executive director of SIAC, said the policy in Akron is “a disappointing way to see a city go.” He believes it could force residents to lean more on private response.
“Based on our experience over the years, the public has expectations of police response, and they feel safer when it’s trained officers responding,” Martin said. “They really don’t like having the option of using a private responder.”
Moving straight to non-response in lieu of an ordinance is “bad policy,” Martin said, because it raises the risk to consumers, who could be compelled to respond to alarms on their own or to appeal to neighbors for help. “And that’s dangerous,” he said.
A well-enforced ordinance that places an onus on cost recovery is crucial, Martin noted. Limiting the number of free responses to a low number—between zero and two, Martin said, depending on local political climate—is an important measure of this approach. Reducing the overall number of alarm dispatches by implementing registration provisions can also help, Martin said.
David Margulies, a spokesman for SIAC, says the Akron Police Department is the 30th public safety agency in America to implement some form of verified response since 1998. The considerable variance from community to community on a range of factors—such as criminal activity, resources and response times—means not all communities have to take on such measures, he said.
“You’re basically saying to anybody who has burglar alarms that these are really not important enough for [police] to respond to,” he said. “While at the same time, police are going to community meetings telling people that if they see anything suspicious to call 911.” He added: “Now that you have proven alternative programs that will get you same basic result but maintain police response, why would you go to this extreme measure when there’s a better way to do it?”
The pro-verification side holds a much different view—not only with respect to reducing false dispatches. Unlike SIAC, advocates of enhanced call verification laws, priority response and audio and video verification tend to view security systems not just as deterrents, but also as tools to help police apprehend criminals.
“Police love to catch bad guys,” said Bruce Winner, brand director at Sonitrol, an audio verification company. “If we can help those guys do their job better and take those guys off the street, it’s a win-win for everybody.”
Another facet of the value proposition, at least on the law enforcement side, is the added safety that officers receive when aided by the information supplied by verified alarms. That information, Winner said, helps ensure that officers “aren’t arriving without knowing what to expect.”
The value for subscribers is simple: Verified alarms reduce response time, Winner said. This is no small feat now, he said, considering that in larger cities, response times have continued to “creep up.”
The average response time for Sonitrol alarms is seven minutes, he said, and that’s due in large part to the verification component.
“If you’re paying an alarm company, and your alarm goes off, your expectation is that police will come,” he said. “And not that they’ll come within two or three hours, but minutes.”
The future of verification adoption, Winner said, will continue to depend on an education process that engages both consumers and law enforcement, and demonstrates how the approach differs from that of a typical alarm company.