April 13, 2009
False alarm ordinance has merits, concerns
Members of the City Council’s Services & Operations Committee will consider a proposal April 16 that could cut down on wasted dollars and effort by the Issaquah Police Department. Though the proposal would allegedly improve efficiency for the department, questions remain about the proposal.
In 2008, officers responded to 1,035 burglary, robbery or duress alarms, according to police figures. A whopping 99.2 percent of the alerts were false alarms. Officers said commercial businesses are the most frequent false-alarm offenders.
Responding to these calls wastes thousands of dollars and hours of manpower each year. Each moment an officer spends chasing a false alarm is time he or she could be using to respond to a bona fide emergency.
When Police Chief Paul Ayers and Patrol Cmdr. Scott Behrbaum presented the proposal to the Services & Operations Committee in February, members raised valid questions about whether the ordinance would limit officers from responding to legitimate calls.
Ayers replied that although alarms deter criminals, the devices do not necessarily help to catch criminals. Out of the hundreds of burglary alarms the department responded to last year, only a handful resulted in arrests.
In 2006, Kirkland began to require alarm users to pay $20 to register their alarms and $50 fines each time the alarm goes off accidentally. The new law led to a dramatic drop in the number of false alarm calls received by the Kirkland Police Department. The ordinance also helped shift the burden of alarm education and maintenance from law enforcement to the owners of alarms, including private security companies.
As in Kirkland, the Issaquah ordinance would require alarm owners to pay a registration fee. The fees, and fines issued for false alarms, are expected to cover the cost of the management of the ordinance. That’s as it should be.
We like that the proposed ordinance includes a community education mandate, an audit of the ordinance each year and a 10-minute limit of any siren or alarm that is audible to neighbors. But we are concerned about the gathering of more private information, and that the registration may cause more home and business owners to decide against the installation of an alarm.
To express your own pros and cons, attend the committee meeting at 5 p.m. in the Eagle Room at City Hall, 130 E. Sunset Way.