February 2008 - Posts

Fines Now Five Times Higher in Santa Cruz, CA, for False Alarms

Calling police to a bogus emergency in Santa Cruz, CA, is going to hurt business owners' pocketbooks. The Police Department has significantly upped the fine for getting called out to false alarms.

False alarm fines are currently $25 after a third call and any subsequent calls within 30 days.

Fines are rising to $125 for any business that sounds a false alarm twice in the same calendar year. The fine goes up to $250 for the third false alarm in a year and $500 for the fourth and any subsequent false alarm.

Police officials say the department's fees lagged behind other area cities such as Capitola, which charges $100 for the third false alarm in a year. The county Sheriff's Office charges $50 for the second false alarm.

Raising the rate should motivate business owners to fix and maintain their alarm systems, said city leaders who approved the increases Tuesday.

"It's important to make sure the alarm is working correctly," Councilwoman Emily Reilly said. "This seems quite reasonable to me and the other business owners I've talked to."

Exemptions will be made for alarms set off by storm activity or power outages.

The new fines are aimed at businesses, not residential alarms.

Fines Reduce Number of False Alarms in Winston-Salem, NC

Since enacting a false-alarm ordinance in 2003, the city of Winston-Salem has collected nearly $1 million in fines, and the measure has led to a reduction in the number of false alarms.

The Winston-Salem Journal reported that fines have helped reduce the number of false police alarms from nearly 17,000 in the last six months of 2002 to about 10,300 for all of 2007.

Once location, a substance abuse center, had 12 false burglar alarms and one false fire alarm in 2006. That's the most at one location in the city that year, and it cost the agency nearly $2,300.

The city doesn't charge for the first three false alarms at a home or a business. After that, there are charges of $50 to $500 for each false alarm.

A police spokesman says that before the ordinance, a faulty alarm could lead him to make six visits to the same house in one night. He said police eventually stopped responding to the faulty alarms.

Fremont, NC, May Charge for False Alarms

In North Carolina, the Fremont Town Board moved Tuesday night to explore the possibility of charging fees for an excessive number of false burglar and fire alarms. 

Goldsboro, NC, already has a fee structure in place that allows residents three "free" false alarms caused by human error -- not "acts of God" such as weather -- for businesses and homes. After the three freebies, residents are assessed a fine of up to $100, depending on the number of false alarms. 

The Wayne County Sheriff's Office also recently announced it would investigate the idea of charging similar fees. False alarm problems often can be fixed by alarm maintenance or by identifying and replacing problem parts in the system, Sheriff's Office Maj. Ray Smith has said. 

Fremont town administrator Kerry McDuffie said that he would ask the town's legal representative to compose an ordinance that aldermen could consider at a later meeting.

Melrose, MA, Police Chief: False Alarm Fines Coming

Melrose Police Chief Mike Lyle said he plans to revamp and start using a city ordinance that fines residents and businesses for repeated police responses to false alarms.

The ordinance, on the books since 1992, gives alarm users two “free” false alarms before allowing the police department to issue fines of $25 for a third and subsequent false alarms.

According to Lyle, who has been reviewing the police department’s policies and procedures since being named chief last summer, no false alarm fines have been issued in the past 10 years.

“I’ve been reviewing the whole police function in the city and it’s taken me this long to see it,” he said. “I’m going to revamp that ordinance. The levies will be changed and brought up to 2008 standards.”

The ordinance also calls for those fines to go to the city’s general fund. The Board of Aldermen approved last week Lyle’s request to creating a revolving account solely for false alarm funds, which the chief said the police department would use to subsidize fleet maintenance.

The actual revised ordinance has not gone before the board yet, as Lyle is still working on it with Rob Van Campen, deputy city solicitor.

Van Campen said the revised ordinance might change to a $50 fine for the third false alarm and $100 for subsequent false alarms. He added the chief would like to add a provision requiring any alarm users in the city to register their alarm with the police department on or before July 1 of each year.

“This allows the city to more efficiently monitor whose property we’re responding to,” Van Campen said, who said the revised ordinance will “probably” go before the Board of Aldermen in March.

NBFAA Offers Business Training Webinars

The National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA) and The Summit Group, a strategic marketing and business building organization, will team to offer security industry-specific business training Webinars. 

Beginning in April, 2008, the National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA) National Training School (NTS) will present a 12-part series consisting of one 90-minute online session each month. Instructors will provide expert information on a specific industry topic, followed by a question and answer period. 

Participants will receive additional consulting during a conference call held two weeks after each series installment, which is intended to reinforce business concepts taught during the session. 

“The purpose of this interactive and consultative format is to ensure that the attendees actually implement the information derived from the sessions and are accountable to provide feedback and receive consultation based on their real life experiences,” says Paul Baran, chairman of the NBFAA Education and Training Committee. 

Specific topics, training dates, pricing and registration will soon be made available on the NBFAA’s Web site at www.alarm.org.

Center Harbor Selectmen OK Alarm Regulations

Selectmen have approved an ordinance which regulates the operation of alarm systems and imposes potential fines for multiple false alarms.

The ordinance, which was approved Wednesday evening, was generated by Police Chief Mark Chase and then interim Fire Chief Bob Wood with current Fire Chief John Schlemmer to place fines on multiple false alarms and requirements on certain systems. 

"Most of this form is very generic, it's copied after everyone else," Schlemmer said, as the ordinance is based on the same ordinance in other towns.

Schlemmer and Chase presented the ordinance to the selectmen during a public hearing on Wednesday.

Under the ordinance, there would be no penalties for the first three false alarms — fire and burglar — for any one location. More than three false alarms in a 12-month period would generate fines with $100 on the fourth occurrence and $200 for the fifth and every subsequent occurrence.

Chase said he and Schlemmer will confer on a monthly basis to share the respective alarm calls they have gotten. Chase said two fire alarm activations and two burglar alarm activations on the same property count as four alarms for that property. 

If there are six or more false alarms in a year, the Fire or Police Chief will issue a letter advising the owner to disconnect the alarm. The owner will be responsible for contacting the alarm company unless the owner can prove why the alarm should not be disconnected within 30 days. An advisement to disconnect will also be sent if the owner fails to pay the fine within 30 days of receiving it. 

Any decisions and fees can be appealed to the selectmen.

Additionally, installation of an alarm system cannot take place without the written permission of the Fire Department, the Police Department, or both. All buildings that have a fire alarm installed must also have a Knox Key Box, a safe box accessible by emergency personnel containing a key to the building. The lock box requirement goes into effect in six months, which Schlemmer said was especially a provision for summer residents.

"It's to their advantage to get it done quickly, but we'll give them time," Schlemmer said. "They have all summer to get it done."

Access to alarm-equipped properties also must be maintained and owners must keep the Fire and Police Departments updated on information regarding the alarm system.

Additionally, all alarm systems connected to the Fire and Police Departments by dialing through the phone line are also prohibited. Town safety officials said the direct dialer alarms take over the property's phone lines and make them unusable during an emergency situation.

Both Chase and Schlemmer said there are already few alarm systems in town. The alarm companies will also be told of the ordinance to pass the information to perspective owners in Center Harbor.

"Our goal is nobody gets fined," Chase said. "Our goal is compliance."

The selectmen approved the ordinance in a unanimous vote.

Vallejo, CA, PD to Offer False Alarm Awareness Classes on March 15, 2008

The Vallejo Police Department will offer a false alarm awareness class next month. 
Such classes can be taken once a year to waive the penalty for police response to a false burglar alarm. 

The class will be from 12 to 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 15, at the department's training classroom at 111 Amador St. 

Reservations may be made online at www.vallejopd.com or by calling 648-4321. Reservations will be taken until March 7 or until the class is full.

Spartanburg, SC, Ordinance Credited for Reduced False-Alarms

False burglar and fire alarms in Spartanburg continued to decrease in 2007, the third calendar year of enforcement under the city's amended alarm ordinance.

According to Spartanburg Public Safety Department statistics, there was a 26 percent decrease in 2007 compared to 2006. That decrease amounted to a savings of about $101,400 and 2,166 work hours for the year, police estimated.

Meanwhile, the collection rate for fines was 54 percent in 2007, with just under $100,000 in net payments. Natasha Pitts, the city's alarm coordinator, said the numbers show the program is a success story.

"We've had a reduction every year, which is really, really good," Pitts said. "And it's not about the money. It's not about the income. We're there to increase compliance and get everyone to know how their alarm system operates."

The ordinance, which went into effect in 2005, imposed registration fees and fines for residences and businesses with more than two false alarms a year. 

The city has registered 2,689 of an estimated 3,500 alarm users in the city. Of those, 57 percent have no false alarms, 41 percent have between one and five false alarms, and 2 percent have six to 10 false alarms. The average false alarm count is less than one per registered user, whereas the national average is two, Pitts said.

In 2007, the city also implemented a process to place those who fail to pay false-alarm fines on a "no response" status. Five businesses or residences now are on that status, which means police will not respond to a general burglar alarm at that location, although officers and firefighters will continue to respond to any fire, hold-up or panic alarm.

Spartanburg police Maj. Doug Horton said most repeat false alarms are due to operator error or improper installation. The city works with homeowners and businesses for free to try to solve the problem.

In 2008, Pitts plans to implement an "online alarm school" through which repeat violators can take an online test about false-alarm reductions. If the user passes the test, one violation with be stricken from their record. The test also will be available in paper format.

Michigan House: CO Detectors Needed in Hotel/Motel Rooms

The Michigan House has passed a bill authored by State Rep. Gary McDowell, D-Rudyard, and backed by Town & Country Cedar Homes CEO Steve Biggs of Petoskey, that would require carbon monoxide detectors to be installed in new residences and homes.

McDowell said the bill, which now goes to the Senate for consideration, would go into effect six months after it is signed into law.

At the same time, the House passed a related bill, sponsored by Rep. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, that requires carbon monoxide detectors to be installed in new and existing hotel and motel rooms in any space within 60 or less feet from the heating unit, with an alarm that is audible from the office.

The second bill would be effective in the next building code cycle, which is expected to begin this summer.

Fire alarm interrupts debate on fire-safety bill in Tennessee

Moments like this are why the Internet was invented: Online video footage of a fire alarm going off in the middle of a committee debate on a fire safety bill.

Tennessee Rep. Mike Turner, who works a day job as a professional firefighter, was arguing the merits of his fire safety bill when the fire alarm started sounding in the Legislative Plaza hearing room.

The moment, captured by the Taxing Tennessee blog, shows Turner handling the interruption with aplomb. To watch the video, click here.

"Mr. Chairman, I think this is an endorsement from upstairs. This bill needs to get out of this committee," Turner said, raising his voice to be heard above the irritating, high-pitched beep of the smoke detector.

As the beeping continued and staffers ran to find out whether there really was a fire, Turner muttered: "Hope that's not a lie detector."

Turned out, smoke from a grill in the cafeteria set off the alarms.

Huntington, West Virginia, Council to Enforce False Alarm Fines

In 2005, the Huntington, West Virginia council unanimously voted to strengthen its false alarm ordinance that has been part of city code since 1979. 

While officials were more lenient in 2006, the city was more consistent in its recent enforcement of the ordinance that fines business owners and residents for excessive false alarm calls, Finance and Administration Director Brandi Jones said on February 11, 2008. 

Jones gave a brief report on the ordinance during Monday night's City Council meeting. The city has received several calls lately from businesses complaining about getting bills for false alarm calls, she said. Some council members said they also have received complaints. 

The city billed about $7,000 in false alarm calls between July 1 and Dec. 1 of last year, Jones said. Businesses and residents have to pay a fine only if the police or fire department answers more than one false alarm call in a 30-day period. 

"The ordinance is pretty liberal in its current form, because you're getting one free false alarm every 30 days," Mayor David Felinton said. "We're certainly not doing this to generate revenue." 

The city has purchased software that will automate all false alarm calls, which means the billing system will be more uniform in its enforcement, Jones said. 

The intent of the ordinance is to encourage businesses and residents to rectify problems with their alarm companies, Jones said.

U.S. House Passes Fire Prevention Bill With NBFAA-Drafted Language

The National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA) is hailing the U.S. House of Representatives for passing a bill that promotes the professional installation of fire prevention technologies in university buildings. 

Passed by the House of Representatives on Feb. 7, H.R. 4460 was introduced last year and included language from H.R. 1409, the College Life Safety and Fire Prevention Act, introduced by Rep. Vito Fossella, R-N.Y. 

NBFAA began working with Rep. Fossella in 2006 to draft language that would establish a demonstration incentive program within the U.S. Department of Education to promote the professional installation of fire alarm detection systems, or other fire prevention technologies in qualified student housing, dormitories, and other university buildings. H.R 1409 later died in the Senate. 

“NBFAA members are committed to this fight to save lives from fire-related deaths, and we will continue to work with our elected officials to support legislation that provides for greater protection of life and property,” says NBFAA President George Gunning. “For two years, we’ve been fighting the battle to educate lawmakers and interested parties about the value of fire detection plus suppression. The passage of the House bill with this vital language included is a major victory in our efforts to have an impact on the safety of students and others who live and work in colleges and universities.”

Lehigh County, PA, Votes to Draft CO Detector Ordinance

Officials in Upper Macungie Township, Lehigh County, are hoping to cut down on cases of carbon monoxide poisoning. Supervisors unanimously voted to draft an ordinance that would require CO detectors in all commercial buildings and new homes. 

The move comes less than a month after a carbon monoxide leak at this Best Western Hotel. One man died, but his death is still under investigation. The ordinance needs state approval before it can be implemented.

Floyd County, Georgia, Ups Fees for False Alarms

False fire alarms will cost a little more in Floyd County, Georgia, after the County Commission adopted a fee increase. 

The schedule of penalties for false emergency alarms still allows for three free false alarms — police, fire or medical. However, the fourth alarm fee rose from $30 to $35, the fifth alarm fee rose from $50 to $65, the sixth alarm fee rose from $75 to $100 and the seventh alarm fee rose from $100 to $125. 

That $125 fee applies to any false alarms after that seventh time, and after the 10th false alarm, there may be a termination of service. 

Responding to false alarms has been a growing problem for both Rome and Floyd County emergency personnel. 

“It’s a major problem that we’ve talked about over the years,” County Manager Kevin Poe said. “We’re looking at what some other communities are doing about the problems, and we’ve discussed putting in some more stringent guidelines. Obviously, handling all those calls takes up a lot of time.” 

Cynthia Cooper, assistant 911 director, said emergency personnel have to respond to every call to ensure the public’s safety. 

“If the alarm system calls us, we dispatch on it, and due to liability issues, we have to receive a disregard message from the alarm company,” Cooper said. “Every call has to be answered, and each alarm is considered an emergency until we know otherwise.” 
Poe said the city and county collected more than $6,000 in false alarm fees last year. 

“It’s more of an enforcement mechanism, not a revenue maker,” he said.

Pending Vermont Bill Would Require Photoelectric Smokes; Advocates Push for Awareness Campaign

When a fire killed a mother and four children here in 2005, there was something peculiar: As fire trucks arrived, the apartment was full of smoke and had a working smoke detector, but it wasn't sounding its alarm.

Months later, Barre, Vermont, Fire Chief Peter John found out why. The smoke detector was an ionization smoke detector -- like those in 90 percent of American homes -- that has been shown to react slowly in the presence of smoldering fires.

Now, John and others here have signed onto a campaign to publicize the benefits of photoelectric smoke detectors they say sense smoldering fires better, which Deputy Fire Chief Joseph "Jay" Fleming of the Boston Fire Department says he's been trying to tell industry groups and the government for years.

Now John, his deputy chief, Russell Ashe, and other Barre firefighters have signed on to Fleming's campaign to alert the public that the other main type of smoke detector -- called a photoelectric -- has been shown to sound earlier in smoldering, smoky fires, giving people more time to escape.

Fleming estimates that nationwide, up to a third of more than 3,000 people a year who die in fires might have escaped if they'd had a photoelectric smoke detector, rather than an ionization smoke detector.

To combat this problem, a bill pending in the Vermont legislature would require photoelectric detectors in new construction in Vermont. Combination detectors could be used, except near kitchens and bathrooms, where nuisance alarms are a problem, according to state Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, R-Essex-Orleans, whose committee has been studying the issue.
In recent years, several national groups have come out with advisories saying that for the best protection, both kinds are recommended.

Photoelectric smoke detectors contain a light source and a light-sensitive electric cell. Smoke entering the detector deflects light onto the light-sensitive cell, triggering an alarm.

Ionizing sensors contain a small amount of americium-241, a radioactive material. It is used to set up a small electrical current between two metal plates, which, when disrupted by smoke entering the chamber, sounds the alarm.

People on both sides of the debate are quick to say every home should have some type of smoke detector on every floor.

The devices have cut residential fire deaths in half in the past 30 years. Evolving standards for what's best now say the detectors ideally should be placed outside each bedroom and inside as well.

Supporters of photoelectric detectors acknowledge that ionization detectors often sound their alarms sooner in an open, flaming fire, but by less than the margin by which photoelectrics beat ionization detectors in smoldering fires.

The National Institute for Standards and Technology tested the two technologies in 2004 and found that ionization smoke detectors sounded in fast, flaming fires an average of 50 seconds earlier than photoelectric detectors.

NIST also found that photoelectrics sounded their alarms, on average, 30 minutes earlier than ionization detectors in smoldering fire.

Fleming and his allies also argue that ionization smoke detectors are too easily set off by cooking fumes or steam from showers, and that such "nuisance alarms" prompt people tend to disable them, leaving no alarm protection at all.

His warnings, he said, have fallen on deaf ears -- until recently.

"The federal government has known about this problem since at least 1980, and have never done anything about it," he told Vermont lawmakers recently.

A spokeswoman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a prime target of Fleming's criticism, would not address his concerns in detail.

"Smoke alarm technology and education is a priority for the CPSC," said agency spokeswoman Arlene Flecha. "We don't have any response to Mr. Fleming's comments."

Two other targets of Fleming's criticisms, Illinois-based Underwriters Laboratories Inc. and the Massachusetts-based National Fire Protection Association, say they've tried to respond to Fleming's concerns, but that their groups are deliberative and careful before recommending one type of product at the exclusion of others.

John Drengenberg, manager of consumer affairs at UL, told a Vermont Senate committee that his nonprofit product-testing firm now is recommending that people install both types.

Testing by UL last year supported results obtained by the National Institute of Standards and Technology in 2004 that showed ionization detectors sounded sooner in open, flaming fires and that photoelectrics sounded sooner in smoldering fires, Drengenberg said.

No one knows in advance which type of fire might strike -- or which type of detector will work better, he said.

Newer "combination" alarms on the market contain both photoelectric and ionization sensors, but Fleming said the combination detectors are prone to the "nuisance alarm" problem.

"The best protection is to have both types in your homes," said Ashe.

Enhanced Call Verification in Appleton, WI, Reduces False Alarm Response by 35%

After one year of following the policy of Enhanced Call Verification in Appleton, WI, there has been a decrease of more than 35 percent in false alarms, according to the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC).

“Our new alarm reduction strategy has resulted in a 35.5 percent decrease in the number of alarm dispatches, as compared with the baseline statistics for 2005," stated Captain Julie Bahr of the Appleton Police Department. "In 2005, there were 1,025 alarm dispatches and in 2007, we only had 661. This new policy and partnership resulted in 364 fewer calls for service."

"Through this partnership between the city government and the alarm industry, the alarm reduction strategy set in place by city officials has proven to be a successful model for other communities in Wisconsin," said SIAC Executive Director Stan Martin. "We are encouraged by the results we have seen in Appleton and look forward to working with other communities in the state to help reduce their alarm dispatches."

In addition to following ECV procedures before dispatching, the Appleton alarm ordinance requires alarm companies to obtain a permit. The ordinance increased fees charged to the alarm customers for repeated alarm dispatching. If an alarm location has more that 12 unnecessary dispatches within a six-month period, the police department may suspend response to alarm activation until the alarm location issues have been resolved.

"We have been working closely with all the alarm companies in Appleton and as a result we currently have no locations with a suspended response," concluded Captain Bahr. "We are very excited to continue working together enforcing the new ordinance to even further reduce dispatches in 2008."

AES-IntelliNet 7705i Earns UL 864 Edition 9 Listing

Wireless to Internet, 2-way scalable alarm communications system meets code compliance and offers solution to AMPS Sunset Clause

AES Corporation, the makers of AES IntelliNet – wireless communications systems for alarm monitoring, today announced that it received UL 864 Edition 9 listing for its 7705i Wireless-to-Internet system. This technology, first introduced in April 2006, enables fire and security alarm monitoring companies for the first time ever to offer the benefits of 2-way radio transmission wireless alarm communications to customers in multiple geographic regions. The UL 864 Edition 9 listing signifies that the 7705i meets the highest level of code compliance required of life-safety alarm communications equipment. 

Tom Kenty, General Manager at AES Corp. said, "With the 7705i, we're now able to deliver our customers two things in one – the most code compliant nationwide radio-alarm system on the market and a solution to the pending AMPS Sunset Clause." 

The Cellular AMPS Sunset Clause is an FCC decision to release cellular carriers from their obligation to continue providing AMPS (analog) service effective February 18, 2008. Cellular carriers are generally motivated to terminate their AMPS cellular service as doing so will free up valuable space on their networks for digital customers. Security industry statistics show that there are more than 750,000 units in place that operate on AMPS service. Without some change in their technology, these alarm customers will lose service on or after 2.18.08 potentially creating a public safety nightmare. Customers using radio-frequency alarms, such as the 7705i, will not be affected by the AMPS Sunset. 

Ed Bonifas, vice president of Alarm Detection Systems, Inc. (ADS) of Aurora, IL, which tested a beta version of the 7705i said of the new UL listing, "We are excited AES's 7705i received the UL 864 Edition 9 listing. Given the success we had with the beta version, we plan to install the newly UL listed 7705i system among all our clients. It's a great technology." Bonifas who is also Vice President of the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) noted that the 7705i is an important tool to deal with big network dynamics by taking signals off the network faster than currently available. He also said that the system's IP link makes a network more reliable and allows for system expansion. 

In addition to its ability to connect several mesh radio networks to operate as a single unified system, the 7705i enables large regional and national users of AES-IntelliNet networks to expand their system capacity and unify their coverage regions thereby increasing recurring revenues. As with all AES IntelliNet products, there are no third-party alarm transmission fees, freeing new users from recurring communication costs. The added benefits of the 7705i's scalability, combined with owner use and control of the system, makes it the perfect solution for monitoring companies that want to worry less about service interruptions and technology obsolescence common with other technologies. 

Kenty noted that while change happens frequently with cellular and phone communications, radio frequency remains a constant, reliable system, "People trust AES IntelliNet radio-frequency networks; they worry less, generate more revenue and profit, and have more time to deal with other aspects of their business."

Virginia Legislature Considering Carbon Monoxide Alarm Bill

A Virginia Senate committee approved a bill that would give localities the option to require carbon monoxide (CO) alarms in apartment buildings, motels and boarding houses. 

The Committee on General Laws and Technology voted 14-1 to send the bill to the full Senate, with Sen. Walter Stosch, R-Henrico County, opposing the legislation, the Roanoke Times reported. 

Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, sponsored the bill after CO poisoning incidents in Blacksburg and Salem the past two years. 

In August, 23 people were sickened by a hot-water heater leaking CO at an off-campus apartment building in Blacksburg. In 2006 more than 100 adults and teenagers staying in the Sections dorms at Roanoke College were hospitalized for CO poisoning, also from a faulty hot-water heater. One man, 91-year-old Walter Vierling of Pearisburg, died. 

Edwards says his bill came at the request of residents from Blacksburg. 

“It is not a mandate,” Edwards told the newspaper. Instead, “it authorizes the localities to go forward with hearings to fashion an ordinance that will protect citizens in apartment complexes. I can tell you the citizens of Blacksburg are quite concerned about so many students living in apartment complexes that might not be safe with the lack of carbon monoxide alarms.” 

Many people representing various state firefighters’ groups are in favor of the bill, while realtors, building code officials and home builders opposed it, the newspaper reported.

Iowa City, Iowa, City Council Mulls False Alarms

In a work session Monday, Iowa City, Iowa, city councilors began the preliminary discussions on such issues as commercial-vehicle congestion downtown, charging for false fire alarms, and changing the requirements for housing inspections.

Fire Marshal John Grier addressed the council about an amendment to the fire code that assesses a fee to buildings when the Fire Department is called to a false alarm more than twice.

The amendment would allow fees to be set by resolution instead of the ordinance, allowing the department to determine individual fees.

The issue will be voted on at the Iowa City city council meeting February 5, 2008.

Douglas County, CO, Approves Enhanced Call Verification Ordinance; Fines for Alarm Companies

In Colorado, Douglas County Board of Commissioners approved the sheriff's proposal for a countywide security alarm ordinance that requires the use of an enhanced call verification policy whereby two attempts to contact the alarm user or a pre-identified third party must be made before engaging a law enforcement response.

Capt. Brad Heyden presented the alarm ordinance to commissioners with a proposal to require alarm companies to register each alarm user with the county. Alarm companies face a $100 non-compliance fee if, in the event of a false alarm, the sheriff's office finds the location is not registered. The alarm company can avoid the fee by registering the site within 10 days of the false alarm, Ron Hanavan of the sheriff's community resources office said.

The ordinance also calls for alarm-system owners to pay a $40 annual registration fee. The ordinance imposes a $100 re-registration fee for those residences which are placed on a non-response list, which is the result of two false alarms.

Commercial properties face a $100 fee for every false panic, robbery or hold-up alarm for up to three false alarms. For four or more similar false incidents, the fee is $200 per incident, Hanavan said.

The changes to the ordinance reflected the commissioners' goal to track alarm users in Douglas County, reduce the number of false alarms and recover the costs from an industry that markets "peace of mind" at taxpayers' expense.

The sheriff's office estimates Douglas County is home to about 7,500 alarm users, none of which are identified by any database. The county currently responds to every alarm when notified by the alarm companies.

Highlands Ranch resident Nancy Levenson appeared before the commissioners to ask for a reduction in the annual fee, which was originally proposed to be $60. Levenson said alarm users should not carry the burden for hiring and training new officers, who provide service to the entire community. The sheriff's office expects to hire a new officer for every $124,000 in alarm fee revenue raised beyond administrative expenses, said Ron Hanavan of the sheriff's community resources.

The sheriff's office attempted to soften the blow by pointing out that fees would be charged to the alarm company, not the alarm users, so the alarm companies could absorb the cost, Heyden said.

Jordan Jackson, president of the Colorado Burglar and Fire Alarm Association, said the alarm industry differs little from other commercial ventures and likely will pass the cost on to the consumer. Jackson, however, agreed a penalty for false alarms would stand a greater chance of reducing the number of unnecessary responses.

All noncompliance and commercial panic fees are waived if the alarm turns out to be an actual criminal event.

"We would never charge if it was an actual crime taking place," Hanavan said.

The sheriff's office does not require registration for unmonitored alarms such as car alarms or sound-alert alarms, but residents with such alarms are encouraged to register their systems with the sheriff's office at no cost, Hanavan said.

The alarm ordinance is expected to take effect by mid-March, following the appropriate public notice postings, Hanavan said.

Higher False Alarm Fees to Aid Long Beach, CA Budget

To bolster the Long Beach, CA, budget, residents can expect to pay a little more for some city services or when they face fines this year, including false alarm fees. 

Increased fines for false alarms are expected to raise an additional $201,800. The new false alarm fines "will assist in solving the Police Department's 2008 fiscal year budget challenges," said Lori Ann Farrell, director of financial management. 

The police are about $11 million over budget this year, and city officials have been working to reduce spending, make cuts and find new revenues to balance its $392 million general fund budget. 

In the past, no fine was issued for two false alarms in a 12-month period, while a third false alarm would cost $50. Under the new rules, a second false alarm results in a $100 fine, and the fine for a third false alarm is $125. 

Fines for subsequent false alarms - at $150 for the fourth violation, $250 for the fifth, and $350 for additional violations - weren't changed. 

According to city officials, these amounts are similar to, or in some cases less than, those of other cities. For example, Los Angeles charges $115 for a second violation and $165 for a third, while Oakland, a city similar in size and makeup to Long Beach, charges $100 for a second violation and $300 for a third, the report says. 

Councilwoman Rae Gabelich said she was concerned about businesses being heavily fined because of technical problems with their alarm systems. 

Mike Mais, assistant city attorney, told her there can be exceptions to the fine. 

"There is an exemption if the alarm owner comes up with a justifiable reason for the false alarm," Mais said. "The director of financial management can take that fact into consideration and dispense with that fine if it’s appropriate to do that." 

Long Beach's other revised fines and fees will affect a range of city services, from construction plan review and inspection, to oil and natural gas well permits, to fire safety inspections. 

A new fee of $290 for required fire inspections will be charged at residential care and assisted living facilities where six or more clients live.

Ordinance Requires Concord, NC, Alarm Users to Register

A new ordinance will allow Concord, NC, officials to fine residents and businesses for false alarms. The ordinance that was adopted by Concord City Council requires all alarm users in the city to obtain a $10 permit each year.

The ordinance covers all audible and silent alarms, regardless if the alarm is monitored by alarm companies or non-monitored.

All residents with the permit will be given two false alarms a year without penalty, and the third through fifth will cost $50. The fines increase with every other false alarm. More than 10 false alarms will cost $500, the release said.

Anyone who hasn’t received a permit will be fined $200 for every false alarm. Fines for false alarms will begin April 1, 2008.