Wave of new alarm response programs from police agencies spreads across Canada
John Slater, CEO of Commissionaires Northern Alberta, which provides monitoring services, says the Alberta RCMP’s new alarm response policy “makes imminent sense.”
According to the policy, which came into effect on July 13, the organization no longer responds to one-hit alarms. They received 15,500 one-hit alarms last year, which used about 8,000 human resource hours, the CBC reports.
“We don’t want to waste highly paid, highly trained police officers running around because the vast majority of incidents are because either systems aren’t well designed or maintained or because the owners of the properties [don’t] do what’s expected of them,” explains Slater.
The Alberta RCMP is not alone in changing its alarm response policy. On Sept. 10, the Toronto Police Service (TPS) implemented a verified response policy for burglar alarms.
These changes are part of a larger national trend of police services transitioning to verified response to reduce the number of resources sent to false alarms.
Patrick Straw, executive director of the Canadian Security Association (CANASA), says that Ontario police services in Kingston, London, and the Niagara region have all recently implemented a verified alarm response policy.
“It’s been spreading across Canada,” he elaborates. “It’s also pretty common now in the United States.”
With regards to the new TPS policy, “I think everybody kind of knew that this was coming,” he says.
In fact, the TPS gave the alarm monitoring community advanced warning of its intentions in 2015, at CANASA’s request, Straw explains.
According to a memo from Toronto Chief of Police Mark Saunders, “The deferral [from 2015] was for the benefit of the alarm industry and its clients in order to make the necessary contractual and business practice changes.”
Toronto Police’s new policy
The new TPS policy defines verified response as: “The requirement of validation that criminal activity is occurring/has taken place OR there is imminent threat to personal safety PRIOR to requesting a police response.”
The TPS “will no longer respond to alarms solely on the request of alarm monitoring stations,” the memo clarifies. The policy only applies to burglar alarm activations, which can be verified through audio devices, video devices, eyewitnesses and multiple zone activation.
There are 142 monitoring stations and 2,513 alarm companies registered with the Toronto Police, says Sandra Buckler, Toronto Police Service’s strategic communications advisor. Before the policy came into effect, the service contacted representatives of these registered monitoring stations and spoke with CANASA, she explains.
So why did the TPS move to verified response?
In 2016, the TPS found that 97 per cent of alarms activated were false, says Buckler. Until Sept. 10, the service sent a two-person car for each alarm call and operated under a fee-based policy for false alarms, she adds. But increasing the fee did not reduce the number of false alarms.
“In 2010, the false alarm fee was increased from $83.50 to $130, but the alarm events reported to us remained around 23,000 and 97 per cent of those were false,” she shares as an example.
Buckler believes the new policy will help Toronto Police achieve one of its strategic goals: “to be where the public needs us the most.”
Verified response will ensure police officers are responding to calls requiring immediate attention, instead of false alarms, Buckler explains.
But how do the changes in Toronto and Alberta impact the monitoring community?
“It makes sense,” says Shawn O’Leary, president and CEO of Toronto-based SafeTech Alarms. “It just means that the operators have to be a little more vigilant and understand [how alarms work].”
Consequently SafeTech, an installing company that acquired a monitoring station a few years ago, focuses on educating its operators.
“I think the gap is that operators don’t really understand the devices themselves and necessarily the technology behind the devices,” O’Leary explains.
Kelly Hine, vice-president of business development and operations at Edmonton-based Orion Monitoring, says the company is not negatively impacted by Alberta RCMP’s new policy.
Instead, it “allows us to help our customers and it makes it easier for our dealers’ customers to transition into this new protocol.”
Hine adds that she hasn’t heard of any problems in the wake of these changes, remarking that the monitoring community in Alberta, as in Ontario, knew they were coming.
Like Hine, Slater believes video verification is “the way to go.”
Moreover, his company has a mobile patrol business that checks clients’ doors and verifies alarms. The requirement for verification means that such services will be in higher demand, so the new policy is positive in that regard, he says.
Ultimately, Hine believes the transition to verified alarm response will not only reduce the number of false alarms, but also improve the industry’s relationship with police, especially if more monitoring companies move to video verification.
“I think it’s very important that [the police] understand that there are companies out there that do live video monitoring and that we’re there to support them,” she explains.
“When the burglar alarm has been verified, it will give [officers] what they need to know when they go into a situation — that there is criminal activity or there is something quite suspicious,” Buckler agrees.
“We have had minimal feedback [from the monitoring community] that ranges from asking questions about live video surveillance and how it relates to the alarm policy to the timing of the change,” she adds. “Overall, there is support for reducing false alarm calls.”