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Less Alarm for Verified Response

Madison’s Verified Response Ordinance did no harm to most security companies. Some even found ways to prosper.

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When Madison’s Verified Response Ordinance was considered, it was panned as another government-imposed cost on business, among other things. But as the practice of verified response has unfolded, it has not only saved the police department thousands of man-hours, it hasn’t really harmed security companies in a dramatic way. In fact, some have used the VRO as an opportunity to offer more value.

Under the ordinance, pushed by the Madison Police Department and in effect since 2007, someone other than a police officer – such as a security firm patrol – is required to physically respond to an alarm at a business and check it out before calling in the law. If there is trouble, the alarm is verified and police are summoned to the scene. Alarms deliberately activated by a person, such as panic buttons, continue to get a first response by the police.

At the time of passage, the Madison Police Department said 98% of all alarms they responded to were false, and they fought for the change because false alarms were a considerable burden on time and resources. Verified Response was pursued to have alarm companies accept some of that burden.

Jason Sweeney, sergeant of training for the Madison Police Department, noted that in the first year the VRO was in effect, there was a slight modification due to a spike in burglaries nationwide linked to a heroin epidemic. That prompted the department to announce it would give officers the option of responding to alarms between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.

“We air them and they decide whether to go, so that’s a slight change,” Sweeney said. “Anecdotally, it has freed up a lot of officer time.”

It has freed time both anecdotally and statistically. According to data provided by Madison police, officers responded to 4,457 alarms in 2006, the year before the ordinance went into effect, consuming 1,765 officer hours. In the first year the ordinance was in full effect, officers responded to only 1,578 alarms, which consumed 624 hours of their time.

Those numbers have gradually gone back up, reaching as high as 2,989 alarm responses (1,174 officer hours) in 2010, but are nowhere near pre-ordinance peaks.

In security

Overall, Josh Manring, vice president of Integrated Security SOLUTIONS and president of the Wisconsin Electronic Security Association, said the ordinance has not had a significant negative impact on most alarm companies. “Most companies have contracted with third parties or hired internal staff to provide alarm response service,” he said. “That has been the approach from day one of the ordinance, and continues to be.

“In most cases, this cost is passed through to our customers,” Manring added, “but they always have the option of responding to their own alarms, which we do not recommend, as most customers do not have the training to respond to a potentially dangerous situation.”

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