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Careful what you promise your customers; don’t advertise like SimpliSafe
May 31, 2023
Careful what you promise your customers; don’t advertise like SimpliSafe 
          Did you know that SimpliSafe gets an alarm signal every 15 seconds?  And once it gets the signal, police are “on the way”.  This is not puffery; not an advertising gimmick; this is a fact.  How do I know?  I just saw it on a TV commercial.  The matter of fact statements can be interpreted only way, exactly as it’s presented. 
          What struck me as curious was not the frequency of signals.  Maybe that’s an average for the 24 hour day.  Maybe it’s the record for signals for a shorter period of time.  But how many signals SimpliSafe gets is not particularly relevant.  Alarm customers don’t really care how many signals the central stations get. 
          But response time is important to alarm customers.  Alarm customers don’t really understand the signal process.  They know that their alarm goes off and the signal goes out and they hope for appropriate First Responder response.  The intermediary central station isn’t given much thought by most alarm customers.  To be sure, some inquisitive alarm customers want to know exactly where the alarm signal goes and how it gets handled and how long it takes; at least how long it takes to get notice to First Responders.  It’s doubtful that most alarm customers expect some representation from the alarm company about how long it will take First Responders to respond, get to the customer’s premises and protect the needed protection. 
          While no representation regarding response of First Responders may be expected, some response is certainly expected in all but the most unusual areas in remote areas or areas so busy with crime there is little or no expectation for speedy or even timely response. 
          But SimpliSafe’s central station operator assured the alarm customer that the police were on their way.  That struck me as more than curious; I thought it bordering on reckless; dangerous; certainly actionable if that representation proves to be false, especially if the alarm customer relied on the representation that police were on their way.  How so?  Well, an alarm customer may have had the option to flee; maybe seek different ways to defend themselves and family. 
          A central station operator’s assurance that the police or fire department are “on their way’ needs to be based on confirmation by First Responders.  It sure isn’t enough that the central station dispatched the signal and the operator knows the police or fire department actually received the signal.  Is it enough if First Responder’s operator confirms that “they are on their way”?  What if they are “on their way” but get diverted while on their way to another call? 
          Members of the public, which includes you and me, have a general entitlement to police protection, but no specific right to police intervention or help at any particular time or incident.  Police do not owe a duty to specific members of the public, unless the police create an expectation.  So if a police dispatcher is on the phone with an alarm customer providing assurance that help is on the way; will be there within minutes or even something more vague, shortly or very soon.  A member of the public can rely on that representation and act accordingly.  If by acting accordingly the alarm customer ends up in a worse or more dangerous situation because police were not in fact on the way or definitely not on the way in the since of heading to the location without diversion or distraction.  The municipality would be exposed to liability in that situation if the dispatcher’s represention created a false expectation of special police protection.
          SimpliSafe is not authorized to represent police activity, obviously.  The TV advertisement makes it seem otherwise.  It sounded to me that SimpliSafe’s operator had some information that I suspect went well beyond what information the central station operator had.  The operator likely knew that the signal was received by the police; may have even been told that police were dispatched.  Would the police dispatcher who received the signal have known that police “were on their way”?  Not likely and why would a trained police operator make that representation unless it was clearly true?  Sure, it’s possible that a dispatcher would also be in touch with responding officers, actually know where they are and how long it will take to get to the scene of the emergency.  That, I suspect would be the rare exception, not a customary conversation every 15 seconds. 
          What’s all this got to do with you; you’re not SimpliSafe?  But you either are a central station or you use a central station to monitor your accounts and you’ve agreed to indemnify the centration station if it’s the central station’s operator’s negligence. 
          Of course police “on the way” is not the only kind of representation you need to be careful about; there are many examples.  Be careful, and that starts with a Standard Form Agreement with your customer that makes it clear that you aren’t responsible for timeliness of police response.  Make sure your sales pitch doesn’t override your contract terms.

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Ken Kirschenbaum,Esq
Kirschenbaum & Kirschenbaum PC
Attorneys at Law
200 Garden City Plaza
Garden City, NY 11530
516 747 6700 x 301