[Editor's Note: Ken Kirschenbaum, an attorney with Kirschenbaum & Kirschenbaum, a New York law firm that often deals with legal cases involving the security industry, shared his thoughts on the Suffolk County legislation. While this may seem to be a regional issue, the points Ken makes are valuable across the country for all alarm systems dealers.]
Here is the definition of who is responsible for a false alarm (as spelled out in the ordinance): "An alarm owner may appeal the validity of a Notice of False Alarm and request a hearing. The appeal must be made in writing to Consumer Affairs within ten days of the alarm owner having received the Notice of False Alarm."
As I read this definition it could include the alarm company who installed the alarm and leased it to the subscriber. Since I believe the intent of the legislation is to impose the burden on the end user the legislation should be clear in that regard; it's not as presently drafted.
Of course the determination of a false alarm is arbitrary. Leaving that determination up to the department of consumer affairs takes the process out of the criminal justice system, with its checks and balances. The department of consumer affairs is not equipped to handle judicial criminal matters, and this legislation includes the penalty of misdemeanor, which is a crime. The employees at consumer affairs are going to make that determination?
The fine is against the "alarm owner who shall continue to operate an alarm system...." Does that mean the alarm company who owns and leases the system? The term "alarm owner" is not clear enough to exclude the alarm company. This should be corrected to read "alarm end user."
False alarm fines of course are a source of friction between the alarm company and the subscriber. Since the legislation, or some form of it, is revenue raising motivated, you have to believe that it or something like it is going to pass. How should you deal with it?
Your contracts have to be clear that false alarm fines must be paid by the subscriber.
You need to be more careful in your installation and service so that false alarm are not your fault. If you think that a manufacturer is to blame then stop using its product. The subscriber is going to depend on you to install and service the system properly, and will have every right to complain if you don't do the right job and the subscriber gets fined, no matter what the contract says about who pays the fine.
But this is a great opportunity for you to sell alarm verification as a way to reduce false alarms. I'd push CCTV with Internet and central station monitoring.
So let's hope the legislation gets cleaned up. Let's hope that it is handled by the criminal courts and not consumer affairs, that you make sure you have contract protection, that you improve your installation and service and train subscribers better in use of system, and that you sell more verification systems, such as CCTV.
About the author: Kenneth Kirschenbaum, Esq., is an attorney at law with Kirschenbaum & Kirschenbaum, PC, out of Garden City, N.Y. He can be reached via his website, http://www.kirschenbaumesq.com/.