Seattle's ordinance turns alarm comapny into the bad guy

SSN Staff  - 
Thursday, January 1, 2004

Seattle’s newly adopted alarm ordinance was crafted in a bureaucratic vacuum in which the police department excluded alarm industry participation, taking a pre-conceived agenda to the city council. By the time word leaked out to the alarm industry, the legislation had already passed committee.

Police dispatches in Seattle declined from a peak of 31,675 in 1999 to 24,505 in 2002, a decrease of 22.6 percent. This was accomplished in the face of a significant increase in the total number of alarm systems.

About a year ago, Seattle’s false alarm response fee was increased from $50 to $125. Yet, the city collected only $398,000 from these fees in 2002 vs. $610,000 in 2001, a decrease of 35 percent. Alarm dispatches in 2002 were down 12.5 percent from 2001. So, with the false alarm fine increasing and alarm dispatches decreasing, why would revenues decrease by $212,000? The answer, according to Seattle’s City Council, is that police officers were reluctant to issue the $125 false alarm fine to the average citizen. It was felt to be too high for the seemingly innocent offense of a false alarm.

Dilemma? Indeed. Solution? Take the problem out of the equation by eliminating police officer contact with the individual citizen offender. Bill the alarm company and make it mandatory that the alarm company pay the assessed fine by the due date or face late penalties and ultimately loss of their license to do business in the city.

Result? Reaming the citizen by proxy! The city has a far greater rate of collection. The alarm company is left to pay the bill first, then do battle with the offending citizens just to recover the funds. This is the unfortunate dilemma of the new ordinance - easier for the city to collect, but more punishing to the average citizen. The city gets their money. The alarm company gets the bad press.

What will operating under this ordinance mean to the alarm companies? Only time will tell to what degree, but we can be certain of an increased cancellation rate from the affected citizens. Many will no longer be able to afford the service. Some, hit with just one $125 false alarm, without the element of the police officer-to-citizen buffer, will simply go without the service. We can also reasonably predict that we will be paying more to the city than we are able to collect. Even if we cancel service to non-payers, we are still on the hook for the response.

Ron Haner
Alarm Center
Lacey, Wash.