Akron police, alarm companies at odds over response changes

Verified response policy set to go into effect next month

Feb. 01--In about a month, Akron police officers will be looking at security alarms a lot differently.

In the meantime, police and some home security companies and lobby groups remain at odds over the department's new policy that changes when -- and if -- officers will respond to alarms.

All verbal jabs aside, the department's new policy -- requiring prior verification of need of help before officers respond to an alarm -- is set to go into effect March 1.

The shift in priority was first announced in December by Police Chief James Nice, who cited statistics showing that 98 percent of the 10,000 annual alarm calls in Akron turn out to be false.

Nice said his already depleted force needs to be more efficient, and forcing alarm companies to verify the actual need for police is one way of achieving that goal.

The announcement has been met with complaints from alarm company operators and an industry lobby group, both of whom assert that the move is unnecessary and potentially risky.

"It's basically putting the public in danger," said David Margulies, spokesman for the Security Industry Alarm Coalition, an advocacy business group.

Nice counters that the alarm industry is merely fueling fear by sending letters with unsubstantiated claims to residents in order to bolster their own business interests.

He said police will continue to respond to panic, emergency and hold-up alarms.

"The alarm industry is putting up a misinformation, propaganda front," Nice said. "The truth is, I just want to do good with APD resources. These [alarm] guys are looking at profits and they want us to be doing their work.

"They're not concerned with anything other than the police going out to their false alarms."

In the past, two officers would respond to an alarm call from a home or business. And most times, nearly every time, the alarm would be false, Nice said.

Police will now require the 60 or so security companies operating in Akron to first verify the need for an officer before police go to the scene.

Plan under fire

Industry proponents say Akron will become just the 30th department across the U.S. to employ what is known as a verified response policy. Margulies said seven other departments have tried a version of the Akron policy and reverted back. There are more than 18,000 agencies across the country.

Margulies said the chief's financial argument is wrong. He said the changes in policy in other cities did not result in fewer sales. But he insists that the policy change will force either citizens or alarm company workers to respond themselves to potentially volatile, in-progress burglaries or break-ins.

"People use that [financial] argument when they can't address the real issues raised by verified response," he said. "If Akron police send two officers to each call, then clearly it is dangerous to respond to alarms.

"Alarm companies would actually profit under verified response if they began providing alarm response. But they do not want to do that because it is a dangerous business."

For example, he said Akron police should demand that all alarm companies be required to make two phone calls to their customers to verify an emergency.

He said the double phone call policy alone would reduce false alarms by 60 percent.

There are "lots of different reasons, but just mandating that practice dramatically reduces false alarms," he said.

Capt. Paul Calvaruso, who has spearheaded the department's policy change, said the department has not ignored the concerns of the alarm industry.

For example, he said the city has adopted the industry's suggestion that an alarm indicating perimeter and interior breaches will be considered a verified need. He also said most alarm companies already make two verification phone calls to clients.

"Most of the alarm companies have been really good," he said. "And we want them to help us. But it has to be within reason."

Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or ptrexler@thebeaconjournal.com. He can be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PhilTrexler.

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