False alarm ordinance watch

SSN Staff  - 
Saturday, March 1, 2003

Albuquerque, N.M.

The city could soon start charging a service fee of $150 when police are repeatedly summoned to a home because of false burglar alarms.

According to a report in the Albuquerque Journal, if the number of false alarm calls is more than 10 times in a year, the fine increases to $500 per incident.

Under a new proposal being considered by the city council, alarm users would pay a $25 permit fee each year, an increase of $15 over the current fee.

There would be service fees for false alarms, beginning with the third false alarm in a year: $150 for a false burglar alarm, $150 for a false fire alarm at a home, $300 for a false fire alarm at a business and $150 for a false hold-up or manually activated alarm.

The fee could be waived if an alarm user shows a false alarm was caused by a malfunction that was repaired immediately afterward.

After 10 false alarms in a year, there would also be a fine of $500 for each additional false alarm.

Frank Keane, president of the New Mexico Burglar & Fire Alarm Association, said the industry is “extremely skeptical” about the proposal.

Buffalo, N.Y.

According to a report in the Buffalo News, the city appears ready to install a new, high-tech system that could help cut down on the number of false alarms while generating an estimated $1 million annually.

The new tracking and billing system promises to make the city more vigilant in fining repeat offenders and registering alarm owners, city officials said.

In addition to the new system, officials are considering a more aggressive enforcement of the city’s false alarm ordinance.

Passed in 1995, the law requires that all alarm systems be registered with the city at a cost of $20 every two years.

Fines are levied if police or fire crews respond to more than three false alarms at any location in a year. Owners pay $50 fines after the third alarm, then $100 for each false alarm after the seventh call.

Buffalo officials admit enforcement of the ordinance has been lax.

The city only sent out fines to about half of all false alarm offenders in 2001.

The collection rate is even lower; the city ended up collecting fines from only 19 percent of the offenders.

Officials also estimate that about half of all installed alarm systems are unregistered. They said the city’s current system doesn’t effectively red flag and bill the owners of unregistered systems. Huge processing backlogs have also hindered enforcement efforts.

By creating what city officials are calling a new False Alarm Reduction Unit, staffed by two or three employees, they estimate that fines and registration fees could be increased by at least $800,000 a year.

Germantown, Tenn.

While many cities have implemented fines to deal with repeat false alarms, officials in Ger-mantown have gone with a simpler approach.

According to a report in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, firefighters and police officers who respond to residential alarms will hang a yellow card on the door to notify homeowners that police responded to an alarm at their residence.

Officers responding to an alarm call will hang the cards on the front door designating the date, time and which agency answered the call.

There will also be a space to indicate what sort of action was taken regarding the alarm.

In addition, the card also contains a list of ways to prevent false alarms.

Germantown officials said they do not intend to implement a system of fines, but they wanted to make residents aware if police responded to an alarm.

Raleigh, N.C

Raleigh businesses, schools, and other places with fire alarm systems now face fines for false alarms under a new city ordinance that went into effect on Jan. 31.

A report in the Raleigh News and Observer said the ordinance sets a $50 fine for the third through the fifth violation in one year.

The fines increase with the frequency of false alarm calls.

The sixth and seventh call will bring a $100 fine, the eighth and ninth call will result in a $250 fine, and there will be a $500 fine for the 10th call and all subsequent calls.

The city began to address the issue of false fire alarms three years ago after receiving 13,000 calls in one year.

Raleigh officials began to require permits for new fire alarm systems and also started a comprehensive testing program.

If the new ordinance is successful, the city may look to revamp an existing ordinance covering false burglar alarms at homes and businesses.

Currently, the ordinance calls for a $50 fine per false alarm after the first three incidents in one year.

Police officials said the ordinance has not had much effect because the fines are not high enough to persuade some to fix their alarms.