The Independence Police Department wants to add more teeth to the ordinance regarding false alarms and is advocating partnership with a private alarm management firm.
In a presentation during Monday’s City Council study session, officer John Cato explained how false alarms eat up too much time police time and how stiffer fines hopefully would cause citizens to take steps to reduce or prevent false alarms.
So far this year, the police have received 2,098 alarm calls – 1,964 of them false alarms, according to information provided at the meeting. Mitigating circumstances (e.g. weather or power outage causing an alarm to go off) have accounted for 92 calls, and just 42 – or 2 percent of total alarm calls – were true alarms for various emergencies.
In 2013, just 103 of 4,544 total alarms were true – 2.3 percent. Mitigating calls numbered 92. In 2012, 82 out of 5,084 total alarms (1.5 percent) were true.
“Any company that only gets a positive result 2 percent of the time would look at how it does business,” Cato said. “It’s a sensitive issue with people.”
The city’s current ordinance calls for a $25 new alarm fee, no annual fee and two allowable false alarms before a $25 fine is incurred for any subsequent false alarm.
By comparison Blue Springs has no new or annual fees, allows three false alarms, then charges $50 each for the next two false alarms in a year (Tier 1), $75 each for the next four (Tier 2) and $100 each for the next three (Tier 3). Lee’s Summit has a $25 new alarm fee, $10 annual fee, fines of $50, $100 and $150 for the respective tiers of false alarms.
Under the proposed ordinance, which city personnel said they would provide the Council with a draft of before its first reading, Independence would charge $10 for annual renewal, have tiered fines of $30, $80 and $100. In addition, addresses could also be charged for non-registered alarms, having the alarm operation suspended for false alarms above 9, notice of disconnection, appealing the suspension and alarm re-instatement.
Among the numerous causes of false alarms, Cato said, include unsecured doors, indoor animals or decorations tripping motion sensors or defective equipment. False alarms at commercial addresses are more common, he said, whether it be employees accidentally tripping the alarm or not being educated enough on how to avoid tripping the alarm.
Cato said IPD is far from alone in being inundated with false alarms. In addition to the time lost in ultimately dealing with false alarms, he added, emergency personnel can sometimes lose their “edge” if they respond to several false ones before encountering a true alarm.
Also, having a private alarm management firm would allow for more effective and efficient tracking and billing for false alarms. Currently billing is handled through the finance department.
“It’s not a way to make more money,” Cato emphasized about the reasoning for the proposed ordinance.
So far this year, the city has billed $5,875 for false alarms, slightly less than half of which has been paid.
Council Member Scott Roberson asked if a proposed ordinance could include mandatory education and system upgrade if a suspended alarm was re-instated. Also, if the city’s utility billing system is upgraded as has been discussed, would it be possible to include false alarm billing in that system.
Council Member Karen DeLuccie asked if there are any penalties for non-payment. Cato said there isn’t much and could recall very few instances of someone being prosecuted for non-payment. The issue with that, he said, is lack of time and manpower to track the highest offenders, especially if fines are no more than $25.
City Manager Robert Heacock reminded the council that with the forthcoming proposed ordinance “the main emphasis is that officers need to have the time to respond to true emergencies.”