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Steep false alarm fee hike in Toronto sparks concern

A recent 40 per cent spike in false dispatch fees levied by the City of Toronto Police Services has the Canadian Security Association (CANASA) concerned that it could be the tip of the iceberg for monitoring companies as municipalities review how they respond to false alarms from home security systems in the future.


March 3, 2010
By Jennifer Brown

In mid-February CANASA Executive Director JF Champagne appeared before the Police Services board after it became known that Toronto was going to raise the false alarm rate from $83.50 to $130 effective Feb. 1.  A false alarm to the fire department will cost the caller $350 per dispatched fire truck.

“The problem with Toronto is they don’t charge the homeowners, they charge the monitoring stations, who in turn have to collect the money from the homeowners. So if the homeowner refuses to pay, the monitoring centre is left high and dry to absorb the cost,” says Champagne.

Champagne say the fee hike is going forward and the move is making some question the willingness of the City to work with the industry before making such aggressive changes.

“It’s done and there’s nothing we can do to change that — the rate has gone up. The point though is that Police Chief (Bill) Blair came to CANASA two years ago saying we needed to work together better, but now they’re slapping our members with 40 per cent increase,” he says.

In the past, other municipalities have worked pro-actively with the alarm industry when they have made changes to their bylaws.

“We do recognize the municipality’s right to raise and levy fees to provide a service, but when we dealt with York Region, which is changing its bylaw policy, they sent a letter at the end of January indicating implementation will be July 1 and they directed it to the alarm industry,” says Champagne.

And while it had seemed the issue of false alarms had taken a backseat to other issues in the last year or so, indications are that it could be rearing its head again this year as cash-strapped cities look for revenue.

“I have spoken to colleagues at the Security Industry Association (SIA) in the U.S. and in the last 90 days across North America they’re starting to see this wave — the new budget cycle is showing increased pressure on various public bodies to balance their budgets,” says Champagne.



The fee hike could lead to a transition to greater guard response in Toronto.

“There’s a substantial group of monitoring stations who have dispatched guard response instead of the police in the City of Toronto,“ says Champagne.

“I think the members will tell you that while we prefer a properly equipped officer responding to a scene, eventually the wheels of economics start to play a part and a large member said they would increase the percentage of guard response to clients over police.”

Guard response and verification using technology will increase, says Patrick Soo, director of Canadian operations for Monitronics Canada.

“I believe guard dispatch will be more common place and as rates become more competitive it will be more cost effective to have guard response versus receiving false alarm fines. Technology will also play a role in false alarm reduction with more interactive solutions as customer interface through PDA’s and smart phones become more prevalent,” says Soo.

The method of billing the monitoring stations is unfair says Soo.

“The City of Toronto has essentially turned the monitoring stations into a collection agency,” he says.“The central station gets billed even if the false alarm was caused by a poor installation, faulty equipment or more than likely user error. This is obviously out of the dispatchers control and now the central station must collect from the dealer and the dealer must collect from the customer, if warranted. In the meantime the City of Toronto has already billed/ fined the central station.”

Soo says a central station operator can only follow dispatch procedures that are clearly defined. However he acknowledges that police resources are stretched to the limit and the industry needs to work to reduce false alarms.

“When we as an industry cry wolf one to many times the police department must put the onus to reduce false alarms back on us an industry — it’s a slippery slope,” he says.

Increasingly, more municipalities have a no police dispatch policy, but with every municipality in North America with different policies and procedures it makes it impossible for companies to provide a national standard.