Alarm companies are teaming up with police and sheriff’s departments to drive a policy change and give priority response to video alarms over traditional alarms at 911 call centers. (Coverage from ISC West)
LAS VEGAS - Alarm companies are teaming up with police and sheriff’s departments to drive a policy change and give priority response to video alarms over traditional alarms at the approximately 6,000 public safety call centers operating nationwide, according to one of the program’s leaders.
“What we’re doing is creating an HOV lane for video alarms,” Keith Jentoft, president of Videofied, said this morning during a session at ISC West.
Jentoft likens what the industry is advocating to California’s decision to allow owners of Toyota’s Prius to drive in the HOV lane to encourage fuel-efficient cars. “That’s not anti-car,” he said. “We don’t see priority response as being anti-alarm.”
Jentoft says the policy change would benefit everyone, especially as the cost of video alarms have become competitive with “blind” alarm systems. To give priority to video alarms, law enforcement has to take three simple steps to tweak their dispatch policies at 911 call centers to allow alarm companies to call in and send video alarms, Jentoft explained.
The first task for call centers is to create a special dispatch code for video alarms and give them higher priority over standard alarms. Next the call center creates a specially designated e-mail address for alarm companies to send the video file to, so the dispatcher can view the footage and verify the alarm was triggered by a person. The last thing to do is to inform the public of the policy change.
Law enforcement organizations are getting behind the policy change for a few reasons.
One big reason is that false alarms cost time and money: a problem only exacerbated by the recession and leaner police budgets. “We still have way too many false alarms,” said Curt Crum, a member of the Boise Police Department’s Crime Prevention Unit, which has begun the process of giving priority to video alarms. In 2007, the city of Boise started charging citizens and businesses for false alarm responses an effort to cut down on the number of false alarms. According to the Boise Police Department , false alarms cost it an estimated $50,000 in lost manpower, vehicle use, and resources in 2005. Video alarms, unlike traditional blind alarms, allow both alarm companies and dispatch centers to confirm an intrusion has occurred.
Police also favor video alarms because it makes their job easier and safer. Video alarms enable dispatchers to send police on the beat video files to view in their cruiser or on a hand-held, giving them situational awareness when responding to a call. With video of the suspect, police officers also have a better chance of identifying and arresting a suspect rather than going off of unreliable eyewitness descriptions, thereby improving public safety. After implementing the system in Chandler, Arizona, law enforcement made 40 arrests in four months. Video alarms installed at frequently burglarized and vandalized vacant public schools in Detroit led to 60 arrests in six weeks in 2009.
But the priority response movement gained its biggest success when Boston formally adopted the policy change in February. The city created two new alarm categories--video alarm commercial and video alarm residential--for its 911 call centers. These alarms also receive immediate attention. In the past, Boston categorized blind alarms as a priority 3; now visual alarms are a priority 1.
According to Jentoft, Los Angeles County will also implement the policy change and alarm companies should be sending video clips by May. The Texas cities of Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio have also shown interest in making the policy change.
Another benefit of the priority response program has been a warming of relations between law enforcement and the alarm industry, according to Crum and Jentoft.
“Where in the past, the false alarm reduction issue has been a source of animosity between law enforcement and the security industry,” Jentoft said. “With this concept we can actually reach across the aisle and say ‘We can help you. We can make more arrests with you.’”
Crum said law enforcement needs such partnerships to do their job, especially as budgets get cut and cops get laid off.
“This is the perfect bridge: that alarm company being part of that community, making a positive impact,” Crum said. “I think everyone comes out smelling like a rose.”