Police fed up with false alarms | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Police fed up with false alarms

Jeff Munson
Photo Illustration by Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Numerous false alarms have the South Lake Tahoe Police Department requesting city leaders to adopt an ordinance that would fine homeowners and merchants who have repeated security alarm problems.

Hoping to cut down on the number of false security alarms police respond to, South Lake Tahoe officials will hear a plan that if approved would require home and businesses owners to obtain a permit when installing such devices and allow for steep fines to alarm owners whose systems have repeated malfunctions.

The ordinance is designed to cut down on false alarms police and fire departments respond to, which costs approximately $41,800 a year, said South Lake Tahoe Police Lt. Terry Daniels.

“Repeated false alarm responses erode response readiness, which could potentially place our officers and citizens at risk,” Daniels said in a report to the City Council, which will hear the proposal today. “False alarm calls are a drain on patrol resources and often create a significant backlog of calls thereby causing increased response time.”

He noted some businesses have had 20 false alarms within one year.

But at least one businessman says he disagrees with creating an ordinance that forces alarm owners to pay for a permit and fines levied against them for false alarms. Frank’s TV and Electronics store owner Frank Giardina said responding to police calls is part of the job regardless of whether or not they are false alarms. He added that the city needs to stop nickel and diming its merchants and cited the Business Improvement District as the latest example.

“It’s getting out of control and it’s not right,” Giardina said. “Either way these guys are on the clock, whether they are called to an alarm or chasing a guy for a speeding ticket. It doesn’t cost them any more to check on a burglar alarm as it does patrolling the streets at night. They are on the clock.”

Of the 3,754 home and residential burglar alarm calls between 2001 to 2003, 3,714 were false alarms, or about 99 percent of the calls. Based on two units responding and one dispatcher handling the same false alarm with 20 minutes average time, the cost per event is $33.63 per alarm, Daniels said.

In three years, the cost to the city for false police and fire calls is approximately $125,439.90.

A standard patrol force is four to five officers per shift. Burglar alarms are considered a first priority response, with at least two officers required to respond. Most often alarm owners or users are the cause of the false alarm when attempting to activate or deactivate their systems.

“Responding to false alarms consumes hundreds of patrol hours during the course of a year. The time lost by responding to false security alarms can be diverted to community policing strategies that can have positive impacts in the community,” Daniels said.

The proposed ordinance is an update to city code regarding false burglar alarms, which Daniels said “has been dysfunctional for a long time.”

Under the proposed ordinance, businesses and homeowners must be permitted for alarms before having an alarm installed. The permit fee has not been determined. Any person operating a non-registered alarm system will be subject to a $250 fine.

Persons with alarms that carry signals that are transmitted to police and fire departments by phone or from an alarm agency may face fines after two false alarms within 12 consecutive months.

The cost for false police and fire alarms within any consecutive 12 month period would be $50 for a third, $100 for a fourth, $150 for a fifth, $250 for the sixth, $275 for the seventh.

Permits for private homes would be valid for three years from the date issued. Permits for business alarms would be valid for one year form the date of issuance. Applications for renewal of permits would be accompanied by a renewal fee established by resolution of the City Council, and any unpaid past due fees or fines. Permits will not be renewed until all fees and fines have been paid.

Alarms caused by storm activity, power outages or factors beyond the control of the subscriber won’t be counted, Daniels said.

If approved, it will take about six months before it would go into effect. Daniels hopes that it would cut down the amount of calls by between 30 to 50 percent.

If approved, an officer will be assigned to issue permits. Daniels noted that most city police departments nationwide already have similar ordinances in place. The idea is for merchants and private home owners to take more responsibility for alarm malfunctions.

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