Column: Verified Response Neither Safe, Fair

this link to the commentary that Lee Jones of Support Services Group

As of Oct. 1, the Fontana Police Department made an administrative decision to stop officer response to burglar alarms. Whether or not this is a good decision, the public should have been allowed to provide input on this very important public safety change. Here's why.

According to the new "verified response" policy, if alarm users want police to respond to their business, school, church or home burglar alarm, they need to verify a crime has been committed first. They can do that by responding to the alarm themselves, paying a guard service to respond or purchasing an alarm system that includes video/audio verification. Is that safe or fair? As president of the Inland Empire Alarm Association, I don't think so. If you agree with me, you need to speak out.

Supporters of verified response suggest that the alarm industry should be responsible for verifying all alarm activations. However, that is not our business. Our job is to provide citizens with equipment that notifies someone if there might be a problem. What they do with that information is up to them. Unfortunately, 70 percent of alarm users make the dangerous choice of responding to their own alarms under a "VR" policy.

Let's be clear about one other thing from the beginning: the alarm industry's opposition to verified response is not self-serving. We have been called a "special interest group," but the only interest we serve is that of our customers and general public. We have nothing to gain by repealing verified response. In fact, many alarm companies actually make more money because of the policy. (We upgrade systems or provide additional verification services.) The only reason we're fighting this policy is because we've seen the negative effect it's had on other communities and we, as experts, know better alternatives.

That doesn't mean we are anti-police. The Police Department does a great job and Fontana Police Chief Larry Clark is making what may seem to be a smart business decision. I respect his efforts to use taxpayer dollars efficiently. The problem arises when business decisions and budget analysis jeopardize public safety and the core purpose of the Police Department.

The fact is that the chief's staff has some wrong information, or at least not all of the information needed to best manage too many calls for service. The Fontana Police Department is not the first to struggle with this issue. It is, however, one of only 30 in 18,000 to take such drastic measures as stopping police response to alarms altogether.

When the city of Los Angeles faced the same problem in 2003, it created a task force to look at solutions. After the most extensive study of verified response to date, they decided it was not a good policy. Instead, Los Angeles used other policies to significantly reduce its calls for service. Smaller cities such as Olympia, Wash., have also used the alarm industry's suggested policies to reduce calls for service by more than 70 percent.

In contrast, the city of Dallas decided to give verified response a try in 2006. A year later the city repealed it because it discouraged economic development and put the public in danger.

Supporters of the policy will argue that it saves police resources so officers can address more serious crimes. The reality is that a simple alarm permit fee can raise enough funds to pay for additional officers who can accomplish the same goal.

Supporters will also quote an outrageously high "false alarm rate" as good reason to implement verified response. This number, however, is completely illegitimate. It does not consider alarms that scare burglars away, and it barely changes no matter how much anyone reduces "false alarms." In actuality, it would be best if all alarms were "false" because that would mean the equipment prevented a crime.

Of course, the policy will reduce alarm responses if its very function is to stop response. Still, that does not mean there is less of a need for police service. Despite what numbers proponents may have used, the policy does not reduce crime. (See the FBI's Web site.) All verified response does is take away a very valuable commodity: your sense of security.

The alarm industry is in the process of challenging this policy in court. If you want us to help you, you need to voice opposition. The bottom line is that the public should decide whether or not Fontana can afford verified response. I urge you to contact your City Council member and get them to add the issue on the public agenda. Invite input from all parties to find the true solution for Fontana.

In the meantime, do your own research here: www.PleaseRespond.org .

Richard Jimenez is president of the Inland Empire Alarm Association.


Loading