Cry wolf, and it could cost you

June 23, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

Officials consider false alarm ordinance

Home and business owners who cry wolf could face fines under a false alarm ordinance being considered by city officials. The proposed legislation would require alarm users to pay to register the devices as part of the effort to cut the number of false alarms.Police Chief Paul Ayers addressed concerns with the proposal when he presented the legislation to the Council Services & Operations Committee June 18. The full council could consider the proposed ordinance as early as next month.

Another measure will go the council alongside the proposal — a contract with a Colorado Springs, Colo., company, ATB Services, to manage the ordinance. ATB employees work with alarm providers to include the permit fee in customers’ bills. Ayers said the company provides similar service for Olympia and Lakewood.

Ayers said a two-year permit would cost $24, and $12 for senior citizens and disabled people. For alarm users without a false alarm during the two-year period, the renewal fee would be waived. Violators would be fined.

Patrol Cmdr. Scott Behrbaum said ATB has a relationship with the major alarm providers.

When Ayers presented the proposal to the Services & Operations Committee in February, members raised questions about whether the ordinance would limit officers from responding to legitimate calls.

At the February meeting, Ayers said alarms deter criminals, but the devices do not always help officers nab criminals. Only a few arrests resulted from the hundreds of burglary alarms officers responded to last year.

“As we’ve presented this in the past, the only concern that came up was about touching bases with the business people,” Ayers said.

He presented the bill to Greater Issaquah Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Committee on March 5. The committee later endorsed the proposed ordinance.

Services & Operations Committee members discussed the proposal in February and April. Ayers has said the bill aims to cut wasted dollars and effort by police officers.

Officers responded to 1,035 burglary, robbery or duress alarms last year, according to police figures. But 99.2 percent of the alerts were false.

Ayers said businesses are the most frequent false-alarm offenders. He attributed the disparity to employee turnover and employees who accidentally trip panic alarms. Of the false alarm alerts received by police last year, 54 percent originated at businesses while 46 percent came from residences. Officials said police responses to the calls wastes thousands of dollars and hours of manpower each year.

Behrbaum said in the worst case last year, officers responded to 16 false alarm calls from the same business.

Several Washington cities have enacted false alarm ordinances, including Kirkland and Redmond on the Eastside. The ordinances led to a dramatic drop in the number of false alarm calls received by first responders, according to police and fire figures.

When the Redmond ordinance went into effect in January 2000, false alarm calls to the Redmond Fire Department dropped to 1,687 from 2,476 calls the previous year.

Services & Operations Committee members endorsed the proposal, saying the measure would free up officers for more important tasks. Councilman Fred Butler, an alternate Services & Operations Committee member, said outreach to alarm users would be another way to cut the numbers of false alarm alerts.

“We need to educate folks that this is coming,” he said.

Reach Reporter Warren Kagarise at 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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