Toronto Police Service response to "burglar" alarms dates back decades. Today, the monitored alarm industry in North America is a multi-million dollar sector employing thousands of people across the continent. While there has been a growing trend toward guard response, the task of responding to alarm systems rests primarily with the police service having jurisdiction.
The growth of alarm systems across the City of Toronto has been fuelled by public perceptions of crime and victimization. The growth in this industry has had a direct impact upon the demand for policing services.
The public will choose to employ security devices that are believed to be necessary and reasonable for the protection of families and properties. Police services across Canada continue to be challenged as to how to continue to deliver policing services that meet the needs of communities while controlling expenditures related to false alarms.
Police involvement with the alarm industry is necessary. The relationship has never been more dynamic than of late, with greater fiscal restraint on public police services, lower profit margins for private industry and a technological boom that continues to accelerate. These factors continue to have a profound impact upon both the public and private sectors.
There can be no doubt that the two industries have a dependent and symbiotic relationship, and the alarm industry will continue to be a significant stakeholder in the public policing sector. However, as verification methods improve and the advent of private response agencies, the public police community relationship with the alarm industry will continue to change and evolve.
Police services must be aware of the changes and have the vision to look forward to see where the future will lie with this industry, for they cannot afford to stand on the sideline and let the alarm response issue pass by. The Toronto Police Service has taken a leadership role in dealing with alarm technologies. The alarm industry will continue to evolve, and police services must continue to work with the industry to ensure that citizens have the best information possible for their safety and security, and that police resources are not needlessly expended on false alarms.
In 1977, alarm response accounted for 10% of the calls for service responded to by the Toronto Police Service. The alarm events attended to were false 98% of the time. As a result, the Toronto Police Service initiated a suspension program in an effort to reduce the number of false alarms being responded to. This suspension program consisted of two types of suspension of service, a 7 day suspension and a 28 day suspension.
Despite the intentions of the suspension program, alarm events continued to increase at an average rate of 12.5% per year. In 1988, the Toronto Police Service responded to 130,000 calls for service related to alarm events. This accounted for 13% of the total demand for calls for service. Of the 130,000 alarm events attended, 98% were determined to be false alarms.
In 1989, the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) established a sub-committee to research the growing concern of the rapidly increasing number of false alarm events being responded to. Information sessions were held with representatives of the alarm industry, the Underwriters Laboratories of Canada (ULC), representatives of the Solicitor General of Ontario's office and representatives of police services across North America. A number of alternative approaches were thoroughly investigated. The final recommendation from the sub-committee was for police services in Ontario to suspend response to premises where four (4) false alarm calls have been attended within a twelve (12) month or 365 day period and that the suspension be in effect for 365 days.
Subsequently, the Toronto Police Service consulted with representatives of alarm companies and monitoring stations to develop an amended Alarm Response Policy. On January 1, 1990, the Toronto Police Service introduced the amended Alarm Response Policy. This suspension program consisted of the issuance of a caution notice following the response to two (2) false alarm events and the suspension of response for a 365 day period to a premise following the response to four (4) false alarm events within a twelve (12) month period. The decline of alarm events was dramatic; attended alarm events dropped to 70,000. The percentage of false alarms dropped slightly to 95%.
In 1991, the decline of alarm events continued. A response was provided to 60,000 alarm events. Following 1991, there was a gradual increase in the number of alarm events attended. The increase was attributed to the growth rate of the alarm industry - approximately 10% per year.
In 1995, the Toronto Police Service responded to 72,518 alarm events, of which 95.2% were determined to be false. In contrast, police arrested only 106 persons related to alarm events. It was apparent that there was no longer improvement in the reduction of the number of false alarms.
During the first quarter of 1996, there was a significant increase in alarm events compared to the same period in 1995. In the first quarter of 1995, the Toronto Police Service responded to 16,662 alarm events. In the first quarter of 1996, the Toronto Police Service responded to 18,488 alarm calls, an increase of more than 10%. The percentage of false alarms responded to remained constant at approximately 95%.
It was found that the demand placed upon the Toronto Police Service to respond to alarm events, the majority found to be false, had grown while police resources and budgets were stretched to the limit. The alarm industry was not able to control the number of false alarms. The Toronto Police Service thus reviewed alternate methods of reducing the demand and costs of responding to alarm events.
The Toronto Police Service reviewed the Alarm Response Policy, with particular focus on three key areas:
- Alarm events made up between 5 - 10% of the calls for service in many major communities; however, the vast majority of these events were false, occupying valuable police resource time
- Despite the low accuracy of the industry performance, the alarm industry continued to reap financial rewards.
- The demand on police resources was paid for by the public; however, alarm system owners obtained preferential use of police resources.
As a result, a decision was made by Command and the Police Services Board to develop a Cost Recovery Program. This program was implemented on September 26, 1996, and had a significant impact upon alarm events. The goal of the program was to lessen the burden placed on the Toronto Police Service's limited resources, both financial and personnel.
The implementation of the Cost Recovery Program had an immediate and significant impact on the number of false alarm events responded to. At year end 1995, the Toronto Police Service recorded 72,411 alarm events and of those 69,013 were false. By year end 1997, the first full year of the Cost Recovery Program, the total alarm event were reduced to 29,632 and of those 27,981 were false.
Currently, the Alarm Response Policy and the Cost Recovery Program remain in effect.