By Daniel Gurich
As it stands today, Akron citizens have been told that to have a more efficient police department they must accept verified response, an outdated and dangerous practice that has been rejected by law enforcement agencies nationwide.
Under Akron’s verified response proposal, an alarm must be verified with audio or video, by an eyewitness or other electronic means before police will guarantee to respond. But after years of touting the idea, only 30 of the nation’s 18,000 public safety agencies have adopted verified response.
The proven alternative to verified response would continue to provide Akron schools, churches, homes and businesses with police response while dramatically reducing calls for service to the police. These strategies were created by thought leaders in law enforcement and the security industry working with organizations such as the National Sheriff’s Association and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).
In fact, the 2011 IACP position paper on alarm management recommended best practices does not include any mention of verified response. Instead, the paper recommends the same approach local alarm companies are suggesting for Akron, including two calls to an alarm owner before notifying police, new technology for alarm panels that cuts down on false alarms, alarm permits and fees, fines for false alarms and no response for the tiny minority of alarm owners who abuse the system.
In Olympia, Wash., the city and alarm companies supported two ordinances that reduced false alarms by 89.5 percent. By outsourcing administration, the city is able to collect more than 95 percent of all alarm-related fees. “By contracting with a third party vendor for the tracking and billing of false alarms, the city was able to implement the program quickly while providing alarm response and great service to our citizens,” said Marianne Wieland of the Olympia Police Department.
There is also a genuine concern that verified response creates the image of a city that has reached the tipping point and is unable to provide public safety services competitive with other communities seeking to recruit or retain business.
A 2006 survey conducted for the alarm industry in Salt Lake City found that knowledge of verified response “put Salt Lake City at a major disadvantage when it comes to recruiting and retaining business.”
“These survey findings suggest that the issue is ripe with negative implications for public confidence, voting behavior and the willingness of business and potential homeowners to locate in Salt Lake City,” said Ann Stouffer Bisconti, the expert who conducted the research. The mayor of Dallas expressed the same views when he made repeal of the city’s controversial verified response ordinance his first order of business after the election.
At this point verified response proponents have provided no information on how much it will cost citizens for private guard response, if such response is even available throughout the community. While we know the city will forgo alarm registration fees in the first year of the program, there has been no calculation of how much the city will lose in total income, especially as citizens are already pressing to eliminate registration fees if there is no guaranteed police response.
Administrative costs may be another important consideration. In addition to time required by police to implement the program, verified response has led to expensive and time consuming litigation in other communities. While the savings in police time with verified response is hypothetical (the police budget will remain the same), the cost of litigation for even one lawsuit can easily run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Finally, it is important to note that despite all of the discussion of making the police department more efficient there has never been a promise made on behalf of verified response that it would reduce crime. In fact, many verified response cities have burglary rates that are higher than the average for their states. With a guarantee of increased costs for citizens and no promise of a reduction in crime, Akron citizens should be demanding answers and the better, proven best practices in alarm management for their community.
Gurich is the president of the Electronic Security Association of Ohio.