Security Dealers Speak Out on Dallas' New Verified-Response Policy

In December, Dallas moved to a verified response policy for commercial alarm systems, while keeping police response for residential alarm systems. The process leading up to the ordinance was one that was hotly contested, generating a great deal of public input, and seeing numerous "for" and "against" columns and articles in the local newspaper, the Dallas Morning News.

The policy was fought by numerous industry organizations, and none were more involved than the North Texas Alarm Association, which encouraged a letter writing campaign from its members and the customers of its members. Despite an effort to prevent the verified response policy from taking hold, the city council and police department got their way, and today, an alarm monitoring company must have verification from someone on-site that, yes, the alarm is sounding because of a break-in or other crime.

According to Chris Russell, president of the North Texas Alarm Association and employed with Amazon Alarm Systems in Dallas, the policy not only has created confusion among alarm customers, but will effectively shift the monitoring business model. caught up with Russell, as well as Dave Simon, the senior manager of industry and public relations for Brink's Home Security, to discuss what these changes mean for today's security systems dealer. Their thoughts are shared in the following Q&A.

Dallas has created a policy that gives residential alarms normal police response, but it moves the commercial alarm systems into a verified-response format. How does this change sales calls to businesses, especially to sell systems to new businesses that may be "on the fence" about an alarm system following this ruling?

Chris Russell: Police not responding to burglar alarms does not make an alarm system lose its purpose. The principle reason the customer is looking for an alarm system and the job of the sales representative remains the same. The change involves price and value -- not reason and purpose.

Dave Simon: We emphasize the benefits that they will gain which they don't have now: First, the siren will scare away the perpetrator or at the very least significantly shorten the time they hang around because attention has been called to them. Second, although police are not the initial responders, there is someone coming to investigate that can identify the perpetrators and immediately call for police assistance; and thirdly, the owner and their designated contacts will be aware of the situation because they will also be notified.

How are company representatives (sales staff, monitoring personnel, etc.) being trained on the new policy?

Simon: We have posted general managers with information, and they then explain the changes to their staff. Regarding monitoring personnel, changes are communicated through our company intranet as well as departmental team meetings.

Russell: All company personnel that come into contact [with customers] must be prepared to respond to customer questions and provide directions to assure a smooth transition.

How has the policy in Dallas affected how your company responds to issues of retaining commercial alarm accounts (i.e., satisfying customer confusion, allaying their fears of 'unprotected facilities')?

Russell: This issue has created a great deal of confusion for alarm users. We have residential customers that think the city is not going to respond and some commercial systems (such as banks) that believe they are exempt. In every case, the customer has to be worked with on an individual basis, case by case.

Simon: We explain the changes to them in a letter, outlining what the city has decided and what options they have as customers as well as emphasizing the continuing benefits referenced above.

Is the private guard services industry coming to you with offers for the verification services?

Russell: Guard companies and alarm companies both are actively communicating. The city of Dallas is the first and only city in about a 1,000-mile radius to stop responding to electronic burglar alarms systems. Most alarm companies and guard companies in Dallas lack the historical experience in assuming the liabilities and responsibility involved to provide a complete solution of safety and security on such a large scale. At this point it's all speculation with both industries and the city. There is no proof that a responsible system to continue the safety and security of businesses in Dallas can be accomplished in less than 6 weeks.

Simon: Even though some companies may contact us, Brink's Home Security analyzes all the firms in a market where the jurisdiction has gone to non-response. Private guard services must meet the stringent standards we set. While our customers can make their own choice on what firm to hire, we do explain to them through a letter that we have analyzed firms and list the one(s) we feel comfortable with.

How does the verification service fit into the business plan? Do you subcontract out?

Simon: When possible, Brink's will offer our customers verification services through a subcontractor agreement that we have set up with a private guard service that meets our standards. However, our customers will make the choice whether to use a private guard service.

Russell: In the past, a business alarm user had a choice of how they used police response; that choice has been extracted from all Dallas business alarm users. As a result it has created a new opportunity for alarm companies. Customer base and demographics, as well as liability concerns, will direct most alarm company's decisions to sub-contract, refer guard companies, or to become a guard company. Regardless of alarm company specifics, a proactive and aggressive business model can enhance any business by creating a distinctive service product (product differentiation).

In the end, can the new policy provide a real benefit for the alarm community and for the public (both in terms of being better for public safety, and being better for an alarm dealer's business?)

Simon: We believe the "best" option is for police to be initial responders to an alarm dispatch. They are the best trained to deal with any critical issues that could arise in a burglary situation.

Russell: I see multiple financial benefits to the alarm industry, but I see no benefit to the safety and security of the public by eliminating an option to have highly trained and educated sworn police officers responding to alarms. Financially, the Dallas taxpayer will have to compensate for the lost revenue generated by alarm users, while the alarm user will incur an expense of someone to respond to their alarm.

What kind of contact are you making to your existing customer base following the new verified response policy?

Russell: We are attempting to speak with all of our business customers directly. The process is being expedited by the confusion surrounding the unique and abrupt adoption of the ordinance to stop police response to alarm systems. We are expecting to have letters mailed before February 1.

What can be learned about the political process from this Dallas case that the alarm community can use in the future when it faces potentially similar policy proposals in other cities?

Simon: We must as an industry continue to meet early with city officials and decide cooperatively how we can consistently drive down false dispatches. Working together we can get this done and everyone benefits -- public safety, the police, alarm owners, the alarm industry.

Does the new policy have the potential to negatively affect bottom lines?

Russell: Any negative affect to the industry bottom line should be temporary. Crime increased in other US cities that have adopted a no-response ordinance. This increase in crime should boost interest in alarm systems and therefore increase alarm sales.

Simon: We've found that where verified response has gone into effect, there has been a very slight initial downturn in sales, and the occasional cancellation of service. Business tends to pick up after several months.