Jerry Kopel

By Jerry Kopel
You live in a valuable home, which contains a burglar alarm system. Is the person who installed the system competent? Does the system work as promised? How many times have the police responded to a false alarm?
These were questions the Dept. of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) had to deal with after law enforcement officials and associations filed a Sunrise application for the state to license those who sell, install, or maintain burglar alarms.
They also want certification for monitoring companies that contact law enforcement after the burglar alarm is activated. Applicants included the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police and the County Sheriffs of Colorado. DORA recommended "don't do it" and let local government continue to make the decisions on regulation.
Applicants cite a 1997 study that "false alarms require law enforcement to leave patrol duties and investigate to respond to intrusion alarms, which are false between 94 to 98 percent of the time."
"...Easy access to alarm equipment and minimal training allow disreputable salespersons and installers (called 'trunk slammers' with all necessary equipment literally warehoused in a car trunk) to...install poor products that cause false alarms."
According to DORA "state regulation would not deter those operating a 'trunk slammer' business as long as consumers are willing, paying participants."
One way local government handles burglar alarms is called a "verified response policy" or VRP. If an alarm indicates break-in (such as an open door signal) police don't have to respond. But if there are other indicators, such as an open window or motion detector signals, the  alarm is considered valid requiring police response.
DORA reports that Lakewood, between June 2004 and January 2005 used VRP, received 2,899 burglar calls of which 12 were valid, but only 10 were responded to. Lakewood claims to have saved $45,920.
Boulder used an "enhanced call verification" policy (ECV) "requiring monitor companies to make one to two additional calls before contacting authorities after  receiving an intrusion signal. Boulder began testing ECV in June 2004. By May of 2005 Boulder saw a 46 percent reduction in alarm calls."
Another approach is "non-response" used in Denver in addition to permits to install and operate a system, fines for false alarms, and costs for police officer time responding to a false alarm. Too many false alarms at a residence also result in no follow up.
There is an organization called the False Alarms Reduction Association (FARA) which puts most of the blame on consumers. "False alarms...caused by new domestic help, guests of children coming home from school...motion sensors by windows affected by wind, new pets, sensitivity of glass, changes in household routines" are examples cited.
According to DORA "state regulation would not reduce false alarms, since the state cannot regulate consumer behavior...and local government  policies (such as ECV and VRP) are successfully reducing false alarms, often with little or nor administrative costs."
"The positive aspect of local regulation is that programs can be tailored to meet the needs of a specific area."
DORA said "no" to state regulation. It is now up to DORA to fight the battle against law enforcement lobbyists. Whom do to you think will win?
(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)

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