City ordinance cuts number of false alarm calls
April 20, 2010
By Warren Kagarise
Percentage of false alarms remains high
Issaquah Police officers race to dozens of alarm calls each month — only to discover homeowners or new employees who inadvertently tripped their alarms and triggered almost all of the alerts.
Police and city officials took action last year with a city ordinance to reduce the number of false alarms. The number of false alarm calls dropped by 63 percent between January 2008 — 18 months before officials approved the ordinance — and January 2010.
Officers received 71 false alarm calls in January 2009, compared to 36 in January 2010. The police department said the measure saved 20 hours in officer time during January.
The number for February dropped from 40 to 28, and the calls fell from 84 to 47 in March during the same timeframe. The city released the data April 14.
Police consider a false alarm to occur if officers respond to a call triggered by a security alarm and — after officers investigate the scene — find no evidence of a criminal offense or attempted criminal activity.
Despite the success of the measure toward reducing false alarms, Police Chief Paul Ayers said more than 90 percent of alarm calls handled by the department turn out to be false.
City Council members acted to limit the number of false alarms after police said Issaquah officers responded to 1,035 burglary, robbery or duress alarms in 2008 — but 99.2 percent of the alerts turned out to be bogus.
City Council members OK’d the false-alarm ordinance last July. Issaquah officials contracted with a Colorado Springs, Colo., company, Alarm Tracking & Billing Services, to administer the program. ATB works with alarm providers to include a permit fee in customers’ bills.
The measure requires most commercial and residential alarm users to purchase a $24 alarm permit; senior citizens and people with disabilities pay a reduced rate, $12. The ordinance requires alarm companies to notify the city of installations. The arrangement also enables permit holders to avoid paying a renewal if no false alarm occurs during the two-year period for which the permit is valid.
ATB collects the registration fees.
Each false burglar alarm costs a violator $100; a false panic or fire alarm costs $200. Moreover, the city charges a $200 fine for each police response if the business or residence does not have a valid permit.
Theresa Schaap, the alarm administrator for the police department, said the program helped the city curb the number of false alarm calls.
The city collected $2,200 from false alarms and $1,000 from false burglary alarms, plus $275 in late fees, last month.
“We’re not trying to make money off this,” Schaap said. “We’re just trying to reduce these” false alarms.
The effort to reduce false alarm calls resembles similar programs in nearby cities, such as Seattle and Redmond.
Shawn Fitzpatrick, support services supervisor for the Redmond Police Department, said although the number of alarm calls Redmond officers receive has dropped since the ordinance went into effect, more than 90 percent of alarms turn out to be false. Only a handful of alarm calls each year turn out to be warranted, Fitzpatrick added.
Redmond officials adopted the ordinance almost a decade ago. The number of false alarms received by Redmond Police has dropped 56 percent since the measure went into effect in January 2001. The number has dropped 18 percent since last year alone.
Fitzpatrick said education served a key role before the ordinance went into effect, to remind businesses and homeowners about the upcoming change. Issaquah chief Ayers said the department worked with the Issaquah Chamber of Commerce to educate businesses about the change.
“Education was a key component of our new program,” he said in a statement released last week. “Thanks to our community’s efforts to learn more about their alarm systems — and how to prevent false alarms — we have saved valuable time and resources.”
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.