Tag Archives: central station

Verified Burglar Alarms Reduce Losses

At a recent International Security Conference (ISC) law enforcement seminar, Chief Chris Vinson of the Texas Police Chiefs Association explained why verified burglar alarms work better: “We will give [them] the priority response [they] deserve. We will arrive on the scene in time to make an arrest. And making those arrests [is] what it is all about because when you increase arrests, you reduce the crime rate. When you reduce the crime rate, you are reducing property loss. When you reduce that property loss, it reduces the insurance rate for those property owners. When those insurance rates drop down [and] the crime rates drop down, then the property values go up, which makes our constituents happy.”

The burglar alarms matter so much because, with a video-verified burglar alarm, an operator at a central station can review on video what is happening at the site before calling 911 center. The operator serves as a virtual eyewitness to a crime in progress. And, when police are sure a crime is being committed, they respond faster and make more arrests.

(To see an excerpt from the seminar, click here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nX3IzynaUUY)

A recent meeting between several of the major alarm companies and Verisk discussed how best to collect and quantify the advantages of professionally monitored video-verified alarm solutions for the insurance industry. Insurers are looking for technology and data to help them contain costs, and law enforcement and alarm response times are a crucial component. In April 2015, the largest police chiefs association in the country passed a resolution endorsing verified alarms and priority response.

The Texas Police Chiefs definition of a verified alarm requires Central Station monitoring with operators specifically trained to review videos and communicate the pertinent information to law enforcement. Home surveillance systems might work as a nanny-cam but lack the protocols and processes for alarm response provided by the central station. (Here is a link to the Texas Police Chiefs resolution on verified alarms:  http://www.ppvar.org/_asset/wfdzry/TPCA-Priority-Response-Resolution-2015.pdf)

Without technology and new policies, property losses will only get worse as the number of officers declines. At the recent ISC conference, officials from Akron, Ohio, and Chula Vista, CA, said their police departments had already shrunk because of budget cuts, forcing them to reconsider response to alarms — responding to false alarms represents between 8% and 15% of total calls for service at the 911 center. Akron adopted a “verified response policy” in 2014, and over the past year burglaries went down 5%, with increasing arrests.

Retired Capt. Gary Ficacci said Chula Vista was policing 260,000 people with 212 police officers, one of the leanest staff/population ratios in the county. The economic downturn caused the city to lose about 40 officers and provided the impetus to change the alarm ordinance to promote a form of verified response. Chula Vista figures it spends more  than $100,000 in officers and staff for every arrest made in response to a burglar alarm, but video verified alarms could cut that number significantly.

How much better can verified burglar alarms actually be? Radius Security in Vancouver, Canada, just completed a short study of its verified alarms compared with the traditional, unverified alarms. For Radius, its verified alarms were 1,000 times more effective. The arrest rate for unverified alarms is between 0.08% and 0.02%, while arrest rates for verified alarms are often in double-digit percentages.

Why? Because law enforcement treat a verified alarm like a crime in progress instead of something highly likely to be a false alarm.

Texas Chief Vinson says, “The calls that truly merit a higher priority response, those get pushed to the top. Those get the response they need to actually make arrests, and that is what we are all going for here, because if you take that guy off the street that is committing the offenses and you’ve solved that crime you have probably solved a handful of crimes that occurred before that he has already committed that he confesses to. And then you prevent all the crimes that he is not going to commit while he is sitting in jail. So, it is a big deal to make arrests on one of these calls, because it makes a difference in the actual crime rate that affects that city.”

(For video on Radius Data, click here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AlXMGu-lT7g)

Video Alarms Go Mainstream

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.

Benefits

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.

Jurisdiction Video Verified Traditional Alarm Response Differential
Boston, MA 7:38 21:00 13:22
Charlotte, NC 5:10 13:30 8:20
Chula Vista, CA 5:05 19:18 14:13
Watertown, MA 4:00 23:00 19:00
Fairfax County, VA 6:00 18:02 12:02
Salinas, CA 2:54 39:25 36:29
Amarillo, TX 10:06 19:24 9:18
Barrie, ON 8:02 16:02 8:00

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.

Monitoring

VideoWhen 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.

Market Penetration

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.

Partners

Grand Prairie PoliceThe 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.