False alarm ordinance watch

SSN Staff  - 
Tuesday, June 1, 2004

St. Louis

A plan to reduce the frequency of false alarms here by bolstering fines as well as increasing operating standards for alarm companies is close to passage.

The bill, which is before the board of alderman, will mark the first rewriting of the city’s burglar-alarm ordinance in 13 years, if passed.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, roughly 70,000 St. Louis-area homes are equipped with some form of alarm system. Police have reported that 98 percent of alarms accounted for are false.

The new bill would allow owners to have one false alarm per year without penalty. Fines will kick in after the second alarm at $25 and would increase to $50 after the fourth occasion. If an address reports more than seven false alarms within a 12-month period, a security company will be required to verify an alarm for the next year before police would respond.

The city currently applies a $10 fine for fourth through seventh events and $15 thereafter.

Bozeman, Mont.

In this city, the home of Montana State University, it is estimated that seven out of 10 alarms are false. In 2003, city officers responded to 1,075 alarms and of those 736 were false.

Bozeman has taken its fate into its own hands with a proposed city ordinance that gives the city the option to charge owners of alarms $50 for each false occurrence. But neither the city nor emergency personnel has ever handed down any fines, reported the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. The ordinance also states that law enforcement have the option to disregard a location that has had more than four false alarms in a six-month period.

Although the city has lost 68 percent of officer time to false alarms, city officials say they are not ready to begin assessing fines.

Richardson, Texas

Richardson may hire an independent contractor to track and collect burglar alarm fees, reported the Dallas News. Alarm calls in this area of approximately 96,000 residents have surpassed the national average of 15 percent of emergency calls.

Richardson officials acknowledged utilizing a contractor for alarm permit billing is rare. Houston is the only other city in Texas known to have a similar plan.

Last year, Richardson’s 911 center answered more than 8,400 alarm calls - 8,300 of which were false. The city has an ordinance requiring alarm registration and hands out $50 fees for more than five false alarms in a 12-month period.

Although the city council said it is committed to responding to all alarms, it also stated it is aware that the time spent responding to these calls equals seven full-time police officers. Officials also said hiring a contractor would allow staff time to be redirected, save $62,000 a year and develop a comprehensive permit database that would bring $150,000 into the city all on top of reducing false alarms.

Corpus Christi, Texas

The Corpus Christi Caller-Times has reported that local police here deal with roughly 60 false alarms daily.

Last year, police responded to 22,264 alarm calls and 21,721 were false. These numbers propelled the false-alarm rate to 97 percent.

The city implements fines to owners, but last year out of the 2,610 fines billed only 30 percent were paid. Almost $130,000 is still owed to the police department.

Alarm permits are required by city ordinance and currently, there have been more than 17,000 permits issued. Permits are $10.50 for the year and an owner is allowed five false alarms before the $50 fees start tallying up.

Police mentioned that the majority of false alarms stem from businesses.

Wellesley, Mass.

In this small suburb of Boston, 2,246 false alarms were accounted for in 2003, reported The Wellesley Townsman. The paper also reported that it takes up to two hours to determine whether an alarm is false or not.

Alarm owners are allowed two false alarms over a one-year period. On the third false alarm, a $25 fine is handed out. For the fourth and fifth time the fines rise to $50 and for the sixth time it rises to $100. If an alarm is triggered by a weather-related incident no fines are generated.