Fraud, when discussed in the context of workers’ compensation, is an interesting thing that many can’t seem to agree on. Some injured workers will tell you that there is virtually no such thing as workers comp fraud (except for all the fraud committed against them by the entire world — insurers, employers, regulators, Starbucks baristas and assorted Disney characters). Workers will grudgingly admit that in the event workers comp fraud does exist at all, it is so inconsequential, so infinitesimal, that it doesn’t even deserve the time of day. Some on the professional side seem to believe that any claim is a fraudulent one and that injured workers are “guilty until proven innocent.” They view every claim through a suspicious microscope and look for any indicator that someone is trying to pull the wool over their eyes.
The reality is that workers comp fraud exists, both on the worker and employer side. Fraud represents the minority of cases, but its presence makes it ever more difficult for the legitimately injured to navigate the labyrinth of comp.
All I know is this: We are far, far too easy on fraud cases when they are caught.
Our CompNewsNetwork ran a story about a former California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officer who pleaded no contest to felony workers’ compensation insurance fraud. He had filed a workers’ compensation claim alleging he had injured his foot while working in the prison. It appears, however, that he failed to disclose his participation in certain events and activities. Those activities included “a 50-mile hike over rugged terrain just three weeks after he reported being injured at work.” They also included activities like rock climbing, snowshoeing and acting in two plays, with multiple performances. He also engaged in numerous extreme hikes in rugged mountainous terrain during the one year and two months he was off work collecting benefits. Not to be satisfied with just committing fraud, he apparently felt compelled to document the endeavor, making video recordings and taking photos of many of his hikes and other activities.
Now, here’s the rub: He will be placed on probation and ordered to serve 150 days in county jail, with the sheriff’s work furlough program recommended. He will also be ordered to pay to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and State Compensation Insurance Fund a stipulated restitution amount of $33,262.56, with an additional $10,453.68 in discretionary costs to be determined by the court at sentencing.
In what can be termed the “coup de grace” (or Coop Da Grass as it is pronounced in northern Florida), if he pays restitution in full, the charge will be reduced to a misdemeanor.
Really? You can steal $33,262.56 but have it classified as a misdemeanor if you give it back? Is that the way it also works for embezzlement? Armed robbery? Burglary? If you give it back, all (or most) will be forgiven? The recommended time in the sheriff’s work furlough program is a nice touch, as well. Can he work as a corrections officer while on work furlough from jail? That would be a short commute.
I suppose that means he could supervise himself.
This isn’t the only fraud story I’ve seen with what I consider ridiculously light punishment. The problem, in my humble opinion, is that workers’ comp fraud is a crime, but all too often it is treated as a minor indiscretion; they weren’t stealing, they just filed a less than truthful claim and let the system send them money while they played or worked for cash or did whatever floated their boat at the time. The fraud is almost treated as a victimless crime, as people find it difficult to view an insurance company as a victim.
Never mind that we all pay for fraud, whether it is a faking prison guard or an employer flashing a bogus certificate of insurance. There are even bigger victims of fraud. They would be the legitimately injured who endure all the extra scrutiny that the specter of fraud brings to the table. These would be the people who are questioned simply because the possibility exists, and who are often left to feel as if they somehow wronged society by getting injured in the first place.
Getting injured isn’t criminal. Faking an injury, quite frankly, is, and we should not be afraid to treat those who do so as the felonious thieves they actually are. We need to be tough on workers’ compensation fraud.
It is the only way we will eventually see less of it.
Video is now the most popular “option” on alarm systems, a fundamental change for the alarm business. Viewing cameras on a smartphone, known as “self-surveillance,” became a standard feature for all but the most basic burglar alarms. Now, video is actually being delivered to the central station during an alarm event. This is the next logical step in security, letting the central station operator verify the alarm and improve police response to deliver greater security.
Instead of just viewing a video of what actually caused the alarms, the central station operator can use the cameras to attempt to see why there was an alarm. In 2004, when the industry standard was created, video verification was reserved for specialized applications. Equipment was expensive and cumbersome to monitor. Nearly a decade later, technology has changed, and video verification is moving mainstream.
IP cameras and specialized camera/sensor devices are now well under $100 and easy to install. The last piece of the puzzle to fall into place was driving down central station monitoring costs. Over the past couple of years, central stations have developed affordable video verification processes that fit the mainstream alarm business model. These central station processes can be applied to a broad range of hardware, from IP cameras equipped with analytics to specialized sensor/cameras designed specifically for video verification. Third party central stations are offering dealers video verification for as little as $5 over what they charge to monitor a traditional alarm.
Contrary to common perception, video verification’s value is not primarily to reduce false alarms. From the property owner’s perspective, false-alarm reduction is more a side effect that “reduces a negative” rather than creating value with additional security. Consumers looking to purchase “security” want the best security they can afford, and they typically equate this with fast police response. Video verification delivers faster police response. Because of historical issues, traditional alarms typically receive a “Priority 3” response from law enforcement. In contrast, video verified alarms typically receive a “Priority 1” response and are treated as “in progress” calls by responding officers. The difference in response times between a 1 and 3 is significant. In Fairfax County, the affluent area around Washington, DC, a video-verified alarm receives response more than 12 minutes faster than a traditional alarm. From a property owner’s perspective, a lot can happen in 12 minutes in a commercial burglary or home invasion.
Chula Vista, CA
Fairfax County, VA
With reductions in municipal budgets affecting many jurisdictions across the US and Canada, law enforcement has downgraded response to non-verified alarms in an effort to save money. Sometimes this means a “broadcast and file” policy, where the alarm is broadcast over the police radio and officers can respond if they have nothing more important to do. Sometimes, police refuse to respond to non-verified alarms at all. But these same financially stressed jurisdictions all continue to respond to video verified alarms.
The benefits of video verification extend beyond priority response. A well-publicized court case recently sent shock waves through the alarm business when an industry icon was forced to pay a multimillion-dollar judgment to a woman who was assaulted after she entered her home. The alarm system had worked. The motion detector triggered at 10:00 AM, and the central station, after failing to reach the owner, dispatched the police. They found nothing amiss. Throughout the day, the motion sensor sent in four additional alarms, but the central station was unable to reach the owner on these, as well. After this rash of alarms, police told the central station that they would stop responding unless the keyholder met them at the home. That evening, when the owner returned home after work, she was assaulted by an intruder who had been inside her home throughout the day. This horrific incident simply would not have happened if the central station had been able to see the intruder who triggered the alarms. Video verification means greater security because the central station operator becomes a remote eyewitness to the alarm event.
When the industry standard for video verification was created in 2004, self-surveillance on smartphones was not even on the radar. Apple’s first iPhone did not even hit the market until 2007. The early video verification process required the central station operator to manually access a camera/DVR when an alarm triggered and download the video for review. This often required working with static IP addresses, firewalls and video management systems that were isolated from the central station automation software that ran the business. All of this required specialized operators who were trained to manage video and operate multiple video systems remotely. Technology changed all this. Video verification is now done by the typical operator in the central station. Central station automation like MAStermind, Bold, Dice, MicroKey, SIMS, and others have integrated video verification into their standard alarm processes. In addition, there are third party solutions like I-View Now that enable any central station to do video verification without changing their automation software. These central station solutions work with a wide variety of hardware, from IP cameras to specialized camera/sensors devices designed specifically for video verification. Just as smartphones and mobile apps changed the lives of consumers, the central station solutions for video verification have made monitoring video alarms simple and inexpensive for the typical alarm dealer.
Self-surveillance and home automation have created a paradigm shift in the alarm business affecting even the most basic alarm offering. Declining video hardware and monitoring costs mean that video verification now fits the competitive business model of $99 down and a multi-year contract that finances the hardware/installation. Commercial applications have been the first to embrace video verification. The newest generations of hardware and monitoring services have finally reached the pricing level necessary to move into the competitive residential market.
The alarm business is built upon a partnership with insurance industry and law enforcement. The insurers encourage their policy holders to install alarm systems to reduce claims and prevent loss. The alarm industry depends upon law enforcement to respond to their alarms and protect their customers in the event of a burglary or intrusion. Video verification is already strengthening this partnership. The insurance industry has taken notice of priority response and what it means to them in terms of reduced losses. In January 2013, Pharmacists Mutual Insurance published the results of a five-year study that linked arrest rates and losses experienced to police response times. Other major insurance companies like Hanover, CNA, Allstate, and State Farm are working on updating policies to encourage their policy holders to move to video verification. While this is a slow process, the insurance industry has begun to turn the rudder, and the ship is in motion.
In the past decade, video technology has fundamentally changed law enforcement with cameras in patrol cars and on highways and even portable cameras worn by officers. Law enforcement depends upon video, and video verified alarms are another step in this direction. While law enforcement understands video verification means fewer false alarms, they also know that video verified alarms mean more arrests. Officers have always been motivated to “catch the bad guys,” and video verification helps make this happen.
As Chief Steve Dye of Grand Prairie, TX, explained to the IACP committee on Community Policing in a recent presentation, “From our perspective, we see no difference between an eyewitness calling to report a crime and a central station operator calling to report a crime they have seen on video. In fact, the fact that a video exists of the actual event could mean the central station call could even be considered stronger.” Chief Dye is promoting priority response to encourage his citizens to install video verified alarms to help him in the battle against property crime. It is making a difference. Currently, the response time for a video verified alarm in Grand Prairie, TX is less than two minutes.
Burglaries and robberies represent a significant expense to pharmacies in the United States. Beyond direct insurance costs, which are driven by loss experience, pharmacists experience financial, business interruption and psychological costs. Pharmacists are concerned about armed robberies, and even finding that a store has been burglarized overnight can be upsetting and cause the expenditure of thousands of dollars in an effort to prevent reoccurrence. Beyond what is covered by insurance, customers pay deductibles that can easily be exceeded as a result of criminal efforts to gain entrance. Pharmacists that are victimized face hours of dealing with police, the Drug Enforcement Administration, board of pharmacy, contractors and their insurance company. As state and national efforts increase to address the underlying problem of prescription drug diversion, pharmacists face increasing administrative and regulatory compliance costs.
When we seek methods to effectively combat the problem, it is important to understand the larger problem of prescription drug diversion and how it fuels pharmacy burglaries and robberies. Described by the Centers for Disease Control as having reached epidemic proportions in the United States, demand for prescription narcotics, coupled with a widely available supply, create an environment that is ripe for criminal activity.
While the U.S. represents only 4.6% of the world's population, we consume 80% of the global opioid supply.
Five million Americans use opioid painkillers for non-medical use.
We experience almost 17,000 deaths from prescription narcotic overdoses annually. In a 4 year period, that is more deaths than we experienced during the Vietnam War.
Morphine production was at 96 milligrams per person in 1997. By 2009, that number increased eight-fold.
The origins of the problem are complex, but are based on a cycle of over-prescribing that has occurred over the past two decades. While well intentioned, liberal prescribing coupled with aggressive marketing, incentives and even encouragement to physicians to relieve pain at all costs sparked the fire. Unchecked by adequate physician education on drug diversion and dependency, and a lack of appropriate chronic pain management protocols, demand and dependency increased. As demand increased, so did production levels, opportunities for profit and creative methods of diversion.
Pharmacy crime involves every part of the distribution chain from manufacture through wholesale, retail, and ultimately to the end user. Pharmacists have been victims of deceptive practices, prescription fraud, employee diversion, burglaries and robberies. According to the Centers for Disease Control, prescription drug diversion, measured by drug overdose deaths and pharmacy crime, is at epidemic proportions.
National And State Actions Taken To Address The Problem
Significant efforts continue to be taken at the national and state levels to combat the problem, with various degrees of success. Each of these has a direct impact on how customers conduct business. Unfortunately, most will have no short term impact on reducing the probability of pharmacy burglaries, robberies or employee diversion.
Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs — Inputting data on prescriptions written and prescriptions filled, particularly for opioid based narcotics is an effective measure for identifying doctor shoppers, abusers and other drug seekers. While the programs are in place in 49 states, most do not connect with each other. This allows a drug seeker to get a prescription in one state and have it filled in another. Use of the program varies significantly by state between being mandatory, voluntary or somewhere in between. In addition, many of the programs are set up on a “free trial” basis for 5 years. As the trial periods are expiring, funding is becoming difficult to continue the programs, notably in California and Florida. Most pharmacists support these programs; however, there has been some resistance by major chains and various state medical associations — in large part objections are based on the time it takes to enter data.
Drug Courts — Intended to allow persons committing crimes to recover, many of these courts eliminate or significantly reduce sentencing for burglars and, in some cases, robbers. This results in a significant level of resentment by pharmacists who are victims of crime.
Drug Enforcement Administration Strike Forces — In the past several years, the Drug Enforcement Administration has shifted a major portion of resources from illicit drug enforcement activity to prescription narcotics. One of the focal areas has been on monitoring the flow of narcotics to pharmacies. These efforts have resulted in sanctions and subpoenas against distributors such as Cardinal Health and Amerisource Bergen, as well as arrests of physicians and pharmacists. In some areas of the country, there are complaints of narcotic shortages as distributors restrict shipments. This pushes drug seekers to other states and areas where enforcement is not as aggressive.
Changing Prescription Patterns — Where states have increased penalties against prescribing physicians and pharmacists for filling prescriptions when they “should have known better,” some physicians have decreased or stopped writing scripts for certain narcotics and some pharmacists have pulled them from the shelves. As chronic pain treatment guidelines are implemented and physician education on drug diversion and addiction increases, we can expect tighter controls on the management of prescription narcotics.
Treatment For Abuse And Addiction — A reality in the war against prescription narcotic diversion is that the demand exists and that the long term solution requires treatment programs that take time, cost money and are much more difficult to manage than writing and filling prescriptions. Until these programs become more available and acceptable, drug seekers will continue to find ways to obtain narcotics, including committing crimes against pharmacies.
Key Findings Presented In This Report
This report covers a 5-year analysis of burglaries and robberies occurring to Pharmacists Mutual customers.
These claims impact our bottom line. Data collected comes from claims department data as well as interviews with each customer victim by our claims department over the past two years. In many cases (where requested by the customer or due to the nature of the loss), follow-up investigation is also conducted by risk management. Information obtained has been used to educate customers, underwriters and field representatives about how the crimes are committed and preventive measures that can be employed to minimize the extent of loss.
What we've learned:
Frequency of pharmacy crimes (81% of PMC crimes are break-ins vs. armed robberies) has been relatively flat over the past 5 years compared to policy count. While we've seen an 18% increase in crimes over the past 5 years, policy count has grown by 21%. RxPatrol, the only other national pharmacy crime database, has seen a slight decrease over the past 2 years, however, 60% of RxPatrol reports are for armed robberies, primarily to national chains, and much of this decrease may have been as a result in aggressive measures to address the robbery problem in chain stores such as Walgreens and CVS.
Total incurred and average costs have increased steadily over the past 5 years.
Almost 70% of the crimes we see are under $5,000. 50% of costs come from the 9% of claims that are in excess of $25,000.
In 52% of cases, criminals enter through the front door or front window. One indication is that video surveillance, while at times helpful in identifying perpetrators, does not deter crime. Some of the most expensive burglaries have been those where criminals entered through the roof. Examination of these and side wall entries indicates the approach targets areas of the pharmacy that may not be adequately protected by alarm systems, or to circumvent motion detectors.
In 1/3 of cases, police respond within 5 minutes. When they do, arrests result in 21% of cases. Unfortunately, most crimes take less than 2 minutes. Bottom line, if they can get in, chances are they will be successful and will get away. In areas of the country where police response times exceed 30 minutes (rural and municipalities with budget constraints), pharmacies are effectively unprotected.
Most state boards of pharmacy require alarms, but situations remain where alarms are not present, are not functional or are ineffective. In many cases, maintenance and testing are non-existent, and there are suspicions that alarm codes may have been compromised.
If a criminal wants to try and burglarize or rob a pharmacy, the pharmacy will likely incur property damage. However, the size of the loss can vary from a few hundred dollars to tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on control measures that are in place.
What really makes a difference in keeping loss costs low?
A well-designed, tested and reliable alarm system. Alarm codes need to be protected and police response needs to be adequate.
Protecting doors and windows to slow down or eliminate the possibility of entry. If the crooks cannot gain entrance within a few minutes, they will usually leave.
Installing a safe. The overwhelming majority of criminals are in and out in less than 2 minutes. Locking target drugs in a sound, well-secured safe can make a significant difference in the size of the loss.
Having a plan and training employees on what to do if a robbery occurs. This can mean the difference between life and death.
What We've Done At Pharmacists Mutual And What We Will Be Doing In 2013
Over the past two years, we have met with over 15 pharmacy associations and buying groups, have published numerous white papers and articles in our semi-annual publication “Pharmacists Mutual Risk Management” and have spoken with hundreds of customers who have experienced pharmacy crime first hand.
We have identified vendors of security products based on our loss experience. Where possible, we have arranged discounts for PMC customers who use these services.
In the fourth quarter of 2012, we provided training to underwriters about pharmacy trends and tools to assist them in evaluating protection levels at pharmacies and to address specific deficiencies.
For 2013, we will be implementing a pharmacy security evaluation matrix. The matrix, based on probability and loss severity data, will be used to assist pharmacies in assessing risk and in underwriting evaluation.
We plan to continue publication and education efforts.
In the past few weeks, we have published two articles by Keith Jentoft, the Partnership Liaison of the nonprofit Partnership for Priority Video Alarm Response, regarding the use of video verified alarms. Recently, David Margulies of the Margulies Communications Group approached us and asked if we would be willing to publish an article which provides a different perspective. David's article appears below.
There is no question today that alarm intrusion systems are often one of the first lines of defense against insured losses from crime. According to the Electronic Security Association, which represents the majority of companies in the alarm industry, the breakdown for intrusion alarms shows them protecting virtually every type of insured business enterprise:
In a national survey of police chiefs, 90 percent acknowledged that alarms both deter burglary attempts and increase the probability of a burglar being apprehended. Of the nation's approximately 18,000 public safety agencies, only a handful require confirmation from a business owner, witnesses or security guard before police are dispatched to an alarm site.
One of the most in-depth and comprehensive studies of the effectiveness of alarm systems in preventing losses was conducted by the Rutgers University School of Criminal Justice (SCJ). The study found that in Newark, New Jersey, residential burglar alarm systems decreased crime. While other studies have concluded that most burglars avoid alarm systems, this is the first study to focus on alarm systems while scientifically ruling out other factors that could have impacted the crime rate.
Researchers concentrated on analyzing crime data provided by the Newark Police Department. “Data showed that a steady decrease in burglaries in Newark between 2001 and 2005 coincided with an increase in the number of registered home burglar alarms,” said study author Dr. Seungmug (a.k.a. Zech) Lee. “The study credits the alarms with the decrease in burglaries and the city's overall crime rate.”
In short, the study found that an installed burglar alarm makes a dwelling less attractive to the would-be and active intruders, and protects the home without displacing burglaries to nearby homes.
The study also concluded that the deterrent effect of alarms is felt in the community at large. “Neighborhoods in which burglar alarms were densely installed have fewer incidents of residential burglaries than in neighborhoods with fewer burglar alarms,” the study noted.
The alarm industry has aggressively addressed the issue of false alarms because of concerns that they were putting a strain on police resources. In 2003, industry leaders created the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC) which is comprised of four major North American security associations — Canadian Security Association (CANASA), Security Industry Association (SIA), Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) and the Electronic Security Association (ESA) — representing one voice for the alarm industry on alarm management issues. The Security Industry Alarm Coalition's primary charter is to significantly reduce calls for service while strengthening the lines of communication with law enforcement professionals and end users.
“Eighty-five percent of the nation's alarm systems generate no calls to the police in any given year,” said Stan Martin, Executive Director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition. “People who say that 98 percent of reported burglar alarms are false are trying to justify ending police response to alarms without human verification of a crime (verified response). These people have failed to perform their due diligence on public safety and industry best practices.”
Working in a partnership with law enforcement, the Security Industry Alarm Coalition has helped communities significantly reduce the number of alarm calls made to police by promoting industry and law enforcements best practices including:
The model ordinance requires registration of all alarm systems.
Two phone calls by alarm companies to alarm owners prior to calling police.
Technology designed into systems to avoid accidental triggering.
Fines for alarm owners who create unnecessary dispatches.
Suspending response to the chronic abusers.
According to a study just released by the Urban Institute, these steps allow communities to maintain police response while conserving law enforcement resources. The study notes that Montgomery County, Maryland was able to save $6 million in costs and reduce alarm calls by 60 percent. The reduction in alarm calls from 44,000 to 16,000 came despite a significant increase in the number of alarm systems.
According to Glen Mowrey, the National Enforcement Liaison of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition:
Marietta, Georgia reduced alarm calls 65 percent in two years with annual revenues of $223,050 in 2008 and $94,800 in 2009;
Johnson City, Tennessee reduced alarm calls 50.1 percent over a four-year period;
Union City, Tennessee showed a reduction of 55.4 percent over a four-year period; and,
during a 14-year period, the police department in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina brought down its percentage of alarm calls, out of total calls for service, from 20.1 percent to 2.4 percent annually, netting 13.5 police officers and an annual revenue in 2009 of $334,470, which includes a reimbursement for 2.5 full-time employees from an outsource company contracted to administer the billing and tracking component.
As new technology emerges, the Security Industry Alarm Coalition is at the forefront of helping develop standards and policies with its partners in the law enforcement community. “Alarm systems and technology are constantly changing and improving,” said Stan Martin, SIAC Executive Director. “Our major and long established trade and professional associations that support SIAC are constantly working to make sure there are standards in place to properly apply this technology.”
“The working relationship between public safety agencies and the alarm industry has never been stronger,” said Mowrey, not only the National Enforcement Liaison of SIAC, but also the former Deputy Chief of Police in Charlotte/Mecklenburg, North Carolina. “Eleven states have created state-wide committees to work with the industry on alarm issues and they all have adopted some form of SIAC's model alarm ordinance.”
The Security Industry Alarm Coalition also serves as the industry's voice working with national law enforcement organizations such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Sheriffs Association.
Through the Security Industry Alarm Coalition, the alarm industry is always available as a resource to the insurance industry for questions, concerns, or more information on how the alarm industry can continue to protect the insured from unnecessary losses.
Once upon a time, alarms detected burglars, officers responded and police made arrests. Underwriters depended on “loss control with a badge.”
In fact, underwriters created the security industry in the early 1900s when they wired a problem Boston bank that then alerted the nearby telegraph office of a burglary. Police arrested the burglars and prevented a large claim.
Underwriters built upon this success and pushed policy holders to install burglar alarms because they worked — police made arrests and lowered claims. The alarm/police response concept worked so well that underwriters soon mandated that all high-value policy holders such as banks and jewelry stores install UL certified intrusion alarms before issuing a policy. They also created alarm discounts in their policy contracts to encourage their other commercial and residential policy holders to install burglar alarms.
This historic police/alarm/insurance model boosted profits through the 1970s, but the partnership lost its value, deteriorated and died. Before we resurrect this partnership and reconsider the “alarm discount,” we need to understand what happened.
What caused “loss control with a badge” to fade?
From the underwriter’s perspective, the unprecedented bull market of the 1980s meant that profitability shifted away from loss control to a focus on collecting premium and driving investment-income. At the same time from the alarm perspective, the digital phone dialer appeared and opened a new mass market for inexpensive burglar alarms. The installed base of traditional alarm systems exploded into the tens of millions, creating a tsunami of false alarms for law enforcement that eroded value. With a staggering false alarm rate of over 98%, police now considered traditional alarms a waste of resources and response decayed. Officers no longer made arrests as alarm companies focused on selling “deterrence” instead of apprehensions. From the police perspective, they simply no longer cared.
The situation degraded to the point that major cities like Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, and Milwaukee stopped responding to traditional burglar alarms altogether. This trend towards declining alarm response continues to be an issue. The police/alarm/insurance partnership had atrophied and neither the police nor underwriters saw value in traditional burglar alarms.
Before we consider the solution, let's look at how traditional alarms are viewed by police. When hit with budget cuts, Detroit Police joined the growing trend and decided to end response to traditional alarms because there simply weren't enough officers to go around anymore. Traditional alarms no longer delivered.
On August 16, 2011 in a Detroit Free Press feature article, Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee Jr. declared that any triggered alarm will require a verified response before dispatch sends a cruiser to the location. Godbee cited a US Department of Justice report supporting verified response as a reliable practice towards eliminating waste and improving public service. Abandoning traditional alarms, Chief Godbee sees video verified alarms as the solution to more effective policing — using video to verify that the alarm is an actual crime. Detroit Police Commander Todd Bettison stated, “Our main goal is to respond to crime, and if we can utilize modern technology, then so much the better. We feel very passionate about this. We've been looking at this for a long time and from what we've observed this is definitely the way to go.”
One program developed by the security industry to address this “false alarm problem” was to transform false alarms into a municipal revenue stream — creating city ordinances mandating false alarm fines and permits for burglar alarms.
While filling the city's coffers with false alarm fines may placate city councils, this approach does very little to increase arrests and address the need for effective loss control. In any case, in many jurisdictions this program is simply overwhelmed by draconian budget cuts that are decimating the ranks of law enforcement.
The recent Department of Justice publication, “The Impact of the Economic Downturn on American Police Agencies” stated that at least 10,000 officers had been laid off in 2011. In the last two years, the San Jose Police Department has reduced its officers by 20% — forcing them to reconsider alarm response.
In a memorandum sent to the City Council's public safety committee in December 2011, police Chief Chris Moore wrote that, “the primary purpose of police is to respond to reported crimes, preventive patrols and community policing, and the practice of responding to all audible alarms does not accomplish any of those goals.” Chief Moore further underscored just how ineffective traditional alarms were at delivering apprehensions: “In 2011 San Jose had 12,450 alarm calls and of those there were only 2 arrests.”
These statistics are not unique. According to the Las Cruces Sun-Times, Las Cruces, New Mexico is moving towards verified response after reviewing that in 2011 a total of 12,970 alarm runs resulted in only 2 burglars being arrested. In light of such statistics, San Jose, California went forward and implemented a verified response policy on January 1, 2011. City leaders say the new policy will allow police to focus on high priority calls and perhaps even reduce those response times.
This is the real benefit of verified response to underwriters — policy holders who use video verified alarms actually get faster response for more arrests. Police attention is focused on crimes-in-progress instead of on false alarms.
Most underwriters are not aware that police don't respond to traditional alarms in many areas of the country. Politicians avoid public outcry, and degraded alarm response policies are often presented in “politically friendly” code but the result is the same — no police response and higher claims.
“Broadcast and file” is one example of a “friendly” sounding non-response policy that is popular in Colorado and the West. For many large Colorado cities like Denver, a “broadcast and file” policy means that alarms are simply broadcast over the radio and an officer responds if he feels like it, and has nothing else to do. It is “voluntary response.”
The majority of the time this means no response at all. In contrast, video verified alarms still receive mandatory dispatch in “broadcast and file” jurisdictions and deliver real value and arrests. Many police departments have simply relegated traditional alarm response to such a low priority that the response time is measured in hours not minutes.
Underwriters have not been totally ignorant of this trend towards degraded response. Large companies like State Farm and Allstate have already eliminated the “alarm deduction” in Florida and underwriters are moving to remove it from their contracts nationwide because they can no longer afford what has become a “marketing device” that has no impact on reducing claims.
The alarm industry and law enforcement have a solution — new technology and updated policies. Video verified burglar alarms have resurrected the police/alarm response model. Police are making arrests again and changing the paradigm. The June 2012 cover story of SDM Magazine, “Does All of This Stop Crime?”, cited examples of amazing arrest rates using video alarms. Universal monitoring, an alarm company in Charlotte, achieved over 60% arrest rates on their monitored video alarms in a one year period. F.E. Moran, an alarm company in Illinois, delivered 129 arrests for 136 incidents using video alarms protecting commercial property — over a 95% arrest rate!
The March 2012 issue of IACP (International Association of Police Chiefs) Police Chief Magazine documents a case study of this new approach at Detroit Public Schools in an article entitled, “Arresting Results: How One District Achieved a 70 Percent Closure Rate with Video Alarms.” Detroit Public Schools installed video intrusion alarms in 30 vacant schools that were targets of vandalism and copper theft. During the 2010/2011 school year, there were 101 burglaries in these facilities. According to the report, the police closed 70 incidents with arrests of 123 people — a 70% arrest rate.
From an underwriter's point of view the results change the game — a few thousand dollars for video alarms saved millions in damage for Detroit Public Schools. In fact, Detroit officer John Greene made over 150 arrests using video intrusion alarms and was named officer of the year in Police K-9 Magazine.
These results are not unique — video intrusion alarms are delivering arrests across the country, saving insurers millions.
In February 2012, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, speaking of their new Priority Response program, announced initial arrest rates of 19% for video intrusion alarms. In contrast, the 2011 burglary arrest rates (without alarms) in Dallas and Minneapolis were 5.2% and 7.3% respectively. Even more worrisome, a study by the San Bernardino Police and Sheriff in 2007 reported an arrest rate of 0.08% for traditional alarms. For San Jose it was less than 2 arrests for every 10,000 alarm runs in 2011.
It is ironic that insurance companies continue to offer costly “alarm discounts” in cities that no longer respond to alarms that no longer deliver arrests.
An underwriter knows that putting one burglar in jail prevents an additional 30-50 burglaries they would have committed on the street (as well as eliminating the cost of the entire claims process incurred by the company). A single site in Chandler, Arizona protected with video intrusion alarms resulted in over 40 arrests in 4 months according to an article in Modern Contractor Magazine.
While response to traditional alarms is decaying, video verified alarms are transforming security and providing new value to law enforcement and underwriters. Alarm monitoring companies are even sending video clips of the intruders to police cell phones, making them even more effective. This is making a dramatic difference in combatting property crime, a paradigm shift for police and sheriffs. Video alarm technology and Priority Response has created an inflection point in an insurance market demanding the return to modern loss control.
It is also a new world for law enforcement. Both police and sheriffs embrace solutions that deliver arrests and make them more effective. Law enforcement sees video intrusion alarms as a fundamental paradigm shift and they want to encourage them, so much so that they are directing the 911 dispatch centers to create special dispatch codes that designate video alarms for high-priority response. In essence, the 911 operators treat video verified alarms as a crime-in-progress, not just an alarm.
Priority Response to video alarms means that the historical police/alarm concept has value for underwriters and works again protecting property and reducing losses. Police respond to video alarms and make arrests that reduce claims. Law enforcement is being proactive, encouraging their citizens to help them protect their property. Chief Steve Dye, of Grand Prairie, Texas recently announced a Priority Response policy on a televised newscast and sent flyers in the water bills of Grand Prairie property owners encouraging them to upgrade to video alarms. Sheriff Larry Amerson of Calhoun County wrote a letter to his constituents, “We believe that video alarms offer enhanced protection to you and help us in our efforts to keep Calhoun County citizens safe and protect their property.”
Law enforcement is making arrests again, and it matters. The National Sheriffs Association even officially endorsed the video alarm manufacturer, Videofied, the first endorsement of a burglary alarm by national law enforcement — because they deliver more arrests.
It is a new world for underwriters. Loss control matters again. It's a world that is ripe for the rebirth of the police/alarm/insurance partnership. Underwriters need loss control — the stock market crash and economic downturn have radically impacted the insurance business model and profitability. Pat Speer, editor of Insurance Networking News, spoke of alarm systems in her January 2012 column, “Is Loss Control a Lost Art?” She concludes her article with, “Given the cost dynamics of the industry's long history of successful loss control initiatives, holding clients contractually accountable for known risk management prevention efforts is just logical. Isn't it?”
Underwriters are again forced to price policies that depend upon loss control for profitability. To strengthen the point, the downturn has created new crime categories, such as copper theft, that leave insurers with expensive property claims 20 to 30 times greater than the scrap value of the stolen copper — recovery is impossible when stealing $1,800 of copper creates a loss of $85,000 for broken plumbing, wiring and HVAC. CBS News recently reported on copper theft at a dental office in Sacramento where thieves caused over $10,000 in damage for $200 of copper.All this pressure on profitability comes at a time when the premium base is actually shrinking. With the proverbial financial gun to their heads, underwriters are looking to resurrect “loss control with a badge.”
Reconsidering The Alarm Discount
Underwriters are becoming educated. Experience has taught them that video surveillance is not loss control. Most surveillance is NOT monitored in real time. It is true that high definition CCTV surveillance cameras and a video recorder can document a theft in high resolution for later review by the business owner. This may be interesting for a television audience, but for the underwriter the crime has already happened, the building is damaged and the crook is long gone with the loot.
Movie-quality video without real time monitoring and immediate police response is a solution, but for other problems. Video quality is not the key issue — once the monitoring operator can tell that there is an actual crime and sends the police — that is enough. There are hundreds of video clips of arrests on YouTube taken outdoors and in difficult low-light conditions that prove the point.
“Adequate video quality” means affordability and the good news is that video intrusion alarms themselves are now the price of a traditional system and much less expensive than a high definition surveillance system. Police don't need Hollywood quality to make arrests — what they need is instant notification of a crime-in-progress.
Underwriters know they must answer the question, “How can we encourage policy holders to use video alarms and police response to reduce losses?”
One simple approach is to review the existing alarm discounts and limit them to video intrusion alarms that deliver Priority Response. Practically speaking this means working with an alarm company as a partner that provides video verification services. Effective loss control means that video clips of the burglary are sent to a monitoring station where they are immediately reviewed and dispatched as crime-in-progress.
A longer term approach being coordinated by the PPVAR (Partnership for Priority Video Alarm Response) is to bring the insurers, law enforcement and security companies together to begin to develop guidelines and standards that could be used by underwriters for specific markets and applications. The board of the PPVAR is composed of representatives from the Police, Sheriffs, the National Insurance Crime Bureau, and the Alarm Industry. This security/insurer/law enforcement working group will analyze loss data for specific applications, such as construction, and create guidelines for minimum requirements needed to actually bring the police and stop the losses — an updated reincarnation of certificated alarm systems.
In any case, the alarm industry and the PPVAR are reaching out to insurance industry associations including the CPCU (Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters), the NICB (National Insurance Crime Bureau), ISO (insurance Services Corporation), PIAA (Professional Insurance Agents Association), and others to educate them and solicit their support as we attempt to resurrect the partnership that worked so well in the past — security companies installed alarms, police made arrests, and insurers reduced loss.