March 2008 - Posts

South Londonderry, in PA, to Fine for False Alarms

Police and firefighters will spend less time responding to false alarms if a new South Londonderry Twp. ordinance does what it's intended to.

Repeated false alarms will draw fines, as will failure to register an alarm system with the township after being notified to do so.

"We want to keep the firefighters in bed at 3 a.m.," said Tom Ernharth, township manager.

Last year police responded to 74 false alarms, and firefighters to eight last month.

Initially, alarm systems will be registered as properties are sold and when false alarms occur, Ernharth said. Installers often inquire with the township as to whether a permit is required, and they will be registered when they do.

Owners will have seven days after notification in which to register with the township. Those who don't face a $25 fine.

The first three false alarms don't draw a fine, but the fourth to the sixth will bring a $50 charge. After that, the fine is $100 per false alarm for that year.

Enhanced Call Verification Cuts Alarms in Sparks, NV by 27%

Responding to false alarms in Nevada has cost the Sparks Police time and money in past years, but a year-old ordinance has resulted in fewer calls and actually generated money for the department.

Since March 2007, when the council approved the ordinance that implemented a call-verification system, the number of calls that required police response was down more than 27 percent, saving taxpayers an estimated $27,539, Police Chief John Dotson ssaid.

Meanwhile, the department collected more than $130,000 in fines, and that money has been used to purchase items for the police department, including new ballistic vests and a digital recording and transcription system.

He said since contracting with the company Alarm Tracking and Billing Inc., the collection of fees is much improved over past years in which the majority of fines went uncollected.

Dotson said Sparks has 42 alarm service providers who serve 3,131 registered users in the city. That includes business and residential customers.

The enhanced call-verification system ensures the validity of an alarm.

For instance, instead of automatically dispatching police, the contracted alarm monitoring company will attempt to contact the alarm site or user by using two designated phone numbers before making a police dispatch request. Police will respond to the alarm once the monitoring company has completed the call verification protocol and determines the signal is valid.

"A vast majority are human-error false alarms," Dotson said, saying a person usually enters an incorrect code or fails to enter the required code in time.

The residents or businesses are fined $75 for the first false alarm call. After three false alarms, the users face suspension.

"There are no free rides anymore," Dotson said.

He said Reno is rewriting its ordinance in dealing with false alarms and using the Sparks ordinance as a model.

Loxley, Alabama, Council Approves Alarm Ordinance

The Council for Loxley, AL, voted to adopt ordinance 2008-03 that establishes a system of fines and warnings for life-safety systems producing false alarms.

If a system produces three fire alarms per year, the ordinance states that the police/fire inspector provide a written notice that the user take corrective action.

Beginning with the fourth alarm the user will be fined $25 per offense. If the system produces more than six fire alarms per year, then a fine of $50 will be assessed per alarm up to nine false alarms. The fine will increase to $100 for each beginning with the 10th false alarm, $200 each beginning with the 13th, $250 each beginning with 15th, $500 per alarm for the 20th and above.

All fees assessed must be paid to the city clerk or a written appeal must be submitted to the chief of police/fire inspector within three days of the fee assessment.

Proposed Bill Would Require CO Detectors in Wisconsin

Wisconsin state Senate Bill 289, which has passed both the State Senate and the State Assembly, would require owners of residential buildings to install carbon monoxide detectors by this fall. 

The bill has now been sent to the governor for action. It would require buildings such as apartments, rooming houses, hotels, university dorms, cabins, and bed and breakfast establishments to have carbon monoxide detectors. 

Deputy Fire Chief David Gee says carbon monoxide detectors are an important addition to any home. Chief Gee says, "It's a silent killer, there's no odor, we wouldn't know it from your senses. These devices can fill that gap."

According to State Representative Terry Musser, the bill was introduced after several people died from carbon monoxide poisoning while staying in a rented cabin. 

Gee says just buying a CO detector isn't enough. 

Chief Gee says, "It's important to read the manual, know the alarm and again, install and maintain them correctly. Like any mechanical device they can wear out or are prone to failure if not maintained correctly."

5-Year CO Detector Life Span

An Eau Claire man died last year from carbon monoxide poisoning at a northern Minnesota resort. Even though his bunkhouse was equipped with a carbon monoxide detector, it wasn't enough. 

Kim and Don Bodeau say their son David was your typical 19-year-old. He attended UW-River Falls and wanted to become a dentist. 

Kim and Don say, "He was a very hard worker.”

David had just started his second summer of working at a resort in northern Minnesota. 

Kim and David say, "It had been cold, and he hadn't slept well the night before, so he turned the heater on that night. Just a typical propane type heater, and went to bed."

But David would never wake up. 

His family says he died in his sleep from carbon monoxide poisoning. 

And the bunkhouse he was staying in, had a carbon monoxide detector.

Kim and David say, "The owner had given him a new battery and told him to replace the battery and to check it. He did that and apparently it worked fine."

Kim and David say they've done a lot of research on carbon monoxide detectors since their son's death. 

Kim and David say, "When we put in new batteries into our carbon monoxide detector, and we press the button, that's checking the electronic system. It's not checking the sensor part of the carbon monoxide detector."

The Bodeaus say these sensors only last a maximum of 5 to 7 years. 

The detector David relied on was almost 11 years old.

Kim and David say, "We thought we'd taken all precautions, David and his employer thought they'd taken all precautions."

The Bodeaus say there's a simple way to keep track of your detector's age.

Kim and David say, "What we've started doing is put an activated date when we take it out of the package and put the battery in, which seems to be the crucial date."

The couple then writes a replace by date on the front. 

Otherwise they say, there's nothing on these units that says how long they'll last. 

They say you should also check the manufacturing date on the back of the detector.

Kim and David say, "It's usually the smallest print on the back of the alarm."

Kim and David say if they can just help one person, that'll be enough.

Kim and David say, "Yes we lost our son due to this, but there's a lot of lives out there that can still be saved."

Eau Claire Deputy Fire Chief David Gee says to keep anything that's combustible in good working order as well. 

That includes gas stoves, water heaters, and gas fireplaces. 

He also says it's important to be aware when you're in tents and ice shacks.

SIAC Expands Scope to Help Communities Develop Fire Alarm Ordinances

The Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC) has amended its mission statement to expand the scope of its alarm ordinance support to U.S. cities considering the creation or improvement of fire alarm regulation. Retired Fire Chief Luther Fincher will manage the new undertaking as the SIAC National Fire Liaison. 

“This is an exciting time for SIAC. Our board members changed our mission statement, allowing us to assist fire departments across the nation who might be looking for help with a model fire alarm ordinance,” says Stan Martin, SIAC executive director. “We are fortunate and honored to have a fire professional with Luther’s qualifications and stature on our team. His knowledge, experience and network of contacts will help SIAC find cooperative solutions to local fire alarm issues.” 

Fincher, who has spent 21 years as a fire chief with the Charlotte Fire Department, will work with communities nationwide to assist in the development of effective fire alarm ordinances. 

“This move was prompted by requests from fire departments for ordinance information and an increase in the number of onerous ordinances starting to surface,” Martin says. “We will diligently defend against any ordinance that significantly impacts response times to emergency fire signals and Luther is the perfect liaison to lead the way.”

Montclair, NJ, Alarm Ordinance ‘Effective,’ Says Township Manager

In New Jersey, township Manager Joseph Hartnett said during his fourth annual report that Montclair’s false alarm reduction program has been effective.

In the 11 months since the municipal government started charging homeowners and business proprietors for false alarms, there has been a 25 percent reduction in false alarms. This reduction of 897 calls “equates to a savings of over 448 man-hours where officers where officers can be assigned to other law enforcement related maters.”

More than 630 business and residents have been fined since the program began.

Hartnett reported that $55,562 in service fees have been paid to the Colorado-based billing company, ATB Services, generating a net income of $225,229, or approximately $15,000 per month.

“This money helps offset the wasted cost of sending officers to respond to false alarms,” Hartnett stated.

Madison, WI, Quietly Drops Verified Response after 26.6% Spike in Burglaries

Madison police in October quietly dropped a 10-month-old policy that limited police response to business burglary alarms after the number of burglaries in the city kept skyrocketing.

Police spokesman Joel Despain on Wednesday said police have been responding to all burglar alarms at city businesses from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. every night since October but did not make that public.

DeSpain said officials have not been able to find a correlation between the controversial "verified response" policy and the 26.6 percent boost in city burglaries from 2006-07 that Police Chief Noble Wray revealed Tuesday.

However, David M. Koenig, of Capital Lock Inc. in Madison, said it would have been important to let the public know the policy had been dropped.

"Frankly, it was a recognition that the verified response policy wasn 't working and they had to do something, but it really doesn 't do anything until it 's made public, " Koenig said. "... (Abandoning the verified response policy) may have made some bad guy think twice about doing it again. "

Under the policy the City Council approved in 2006 at police request, officers were not required to respond to mechanical alarms at businesses until someone called police to verify there was a problem. Wray exempted residential alarms and panic button alarms activated by hand.

Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz denied the verified response policy, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2007, was part of the reason the burglary numbers soared.

"The police saw no significant change in burglary rates when they suspended verified response, " said mayoral spokesman George Twigg, and "burglaries are also up in places outside Madison that don 't have verified response. "

In addition, Twigg said, police report a significant number of the commercial establishments that were hit didn 't have alarm systems. "Whether perpetrators consciously are looking for businesses without alarms, I don 't know, " DeSpain said.

Commercial burglaries in Madison jumped from 522 in 2006 to 716 in 2007, DeSpain said.

Twigg said the mayor is expecting to review a police report on implementation of the verified response policy in 2007.

NBFAA Forms Political Action Committee

Taking the "next logical step" to build its government relations program, the 
National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association announced March 18 that it's launching its own 
political action committee, called the NBFAA PAC.

"An industry's strength in Congress, and access in Washington, is many times determined 
by associations having legitimate PACS for members to contribute to senators and 
congressmen," said John Chwat, NBFAA's director of government relations.

"As the NBFAA government relations program becomes more proactive and much more involved, 
starting a PAC is the normal course of events," he said.

The Federal Elections Commission has very stringent rules governing the establishment and 
administration of a PAC, with which the NBFAA has complied.

The NBFAA will begin soliciting "individual company officers" in line with FEC 
regulations. It will continue raising funds during the NBFAA's Day on Capitol Hill at the 
end of April and at ESX (the Electronic Security Expo, June 25-27).

This being an election year, the NBFAA has a short time to build up it PAC war chest, so 
that it can begin participating in fundraising events and "making contributions to our 
friends on Capitol Hill who support our position," he said. 

It is possible that the NBFAA would support candidates for open seats as well as current 
members of Congress. 

The next election cycle will be in 2010, Chwat noted, but fundraising activities continue 
unabated. "[Candidates are] always in the mode for accepting contributions," Chwat said.

Casa Grande, AZ, Plans to Increase Fines for False Burglar Alarms.

In Arizona, Casa Grande's City Council approved the initial reading of a proposed alarm ordinance to update and strengthen the previous version that was written in 1994.

The ordinance must be on a City Council agenda a second time before it goes into effect 
on June 1.

"It's taken some time, obviously, to do that due to some changes in staff, and now with 
the new council wanting to take an additional look at it," City Attorney Brett Wallace 

"This ordinance, in an effort to continue to curb false alarms, augments and replaces the 
existing alarm ordinance that we have."

Wallace said the ordinance makes major changes in four areas.

"It would require registration by alarm users, which would be by permit and payment of an 
annual fee," he said. "The initial fee, which would be set in our consolidated fees 
schedule, is being suggested at $10."

Wallace said the ordinance, which would be handled through the Police Department, would 
include schools, which are now exempt. The Police Department earlier said that the 346 
false alarms at schools, mostly at off hours and caused by janitorial and other 
personnel, equaled 12.7 percent of the false alarm  total during 2007.

"There are heightened penalties for repeat violators, those who continue to have a number 
of false alarms," Wallace said.

Those fines would be $50 for the third through fifth false alarm. The fee for the third 
one may be waived if the user attends alarm school. The fine for the sixth through eighth 
false alarms is $100 and for the ninth or more, it is $150. At the 10th false alarm, 
revocation of the alarm may be sought.

Proposed penalties for false panic alarms within a permit year are $125 for the second 
through fourth and $225 for five or more. Revocation may be sought after the sixth false 

The fines for false panic alarms are higher because police treat panic alarms as holdup 
alarms, sending out more personnel.

There would be a fine of $50 for failure to provide a responsible party on scene or for 
no response to an alarm. During 2007, the Police Department said, there were 757 cases of 
persons not responding.

"And it also involved the regulation of the alarm businesses, which is something that our 
current ordinance does not do," Wallace said.

The present ordinance does not require any registration of alarms. The Police Department 
said some alarm companies provide information about owners, but others do not. By the 
same token, many residents do not tell the department that they have an alarm.

Under the new ordinance alarm companies must provide customers with instructions on 
operating alarms and avoiding false alarms and must notify the Police Department of who 
has an alarm so that police know who to call in an emergency. Owners must also make sure 
that the department has the name of the owner and at least two representatives who could 
respond if the owner is not available.

Owners or a representative must respond within 30 minutes of an alarm activation or when 
requested to by police officers.

The $10 permit, which will be billed yearly thereafter by the city Finance Department, 
must be obtained within 10 days of installation of an alarm. The ordinance says persons 
or businesses having an alarm installed prior to April 1 must obtain the permit by May 

"The proposed effective date of this would be June 1, to allow some additional time after 
the ordinary effective date in order to get the word out to the citizens about it and let 
everyone know when the registration would be required, because it does require 
registration of our existing users," Wallace said.

The city has not yet released details on where and how to apply for the alarm permits, 
but City Manager Jim Thompson said the public information officer would be working with 
the Police Department on announcements.

The council vote was unanimous, with Mary Kortsen saying, "Even though I have a little 
reservation about including the schools, I vote yes."

Holland City (MI) Council OKs fines for false fire alarms

False alarms in Holland will equal real fines.

The city council Wednesday approved a measure that has businesses whose automatic fire alarm systems go off without cause pay $250 for each false alarm after the first two.

The measure is intended to cut down on the number of false alarms and $250 doesn't cover the cost of a fire call, Fire Chief Don Henderson said.

Holland City (MI) Council to vote on false alarm fines

In Michigan, the Holland City Council is expected to vote on a measure that would charge businesses for false fire alarms.  

The most pressing reason is to discourage false alarms, Holland Fire Chief Dan Henderson said at a council study session on Wednesday, March 12, 2008.

As Holland has grown and new buildings have been built over the past 20 years, more buildings have been required to have automatic fire alarms.

"This is not by any means an attempt to raise revenue," City Manager Soren Wolff said. "This is an effort to make our fire protection and response better for the public."

The first false alarm at an address in 12 months would not require action. After the second, the fire marshal would hand-deliver a letter giving the business 15 days to take care of any problems and to send a report to the city.

If problems are not fixed or a report not filed, a fine would be levied.

The third false alarm in a year would trigger an automatic fine. The fire department is recommending a fine of $250.

Mechanical failure, negligent use or misuse of the alarm system would be considered false alarms. Incidents beyond the businesses' control, such as power outages, burned food in nursing homes or weather, would not, Henderson said.

New alarms would have a 45-day grace period when the system is first installed. Alarm companies that don't turn off an alarm when testing it would also be subject to a fine.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors Could Soon be Required by Colorado Law

Carbon monoxide detectors may soon be required for every home sold in Colorado and every new residence constructed as well. Senate Bill 187 requires all single and multi-family dwellings sold after July 1 and any building permit issued after that date to be equipped with the detectors if there's a fuel-burning heater, fireplace or attached garage.

"It's a public health issue," said Sen. Bob Hagedorn (D-Aurora), the bill's sponsor. Hagedorn says on average, nine people die per year in Colorado due to carbon monoxide poisoning. "These are avoidable. It's common sense. We've been lucky, I think in some respects, that we've had such few deaths." 

Hagedorn says new construction is actually leading to increased concern as energy-efficient homes don't allow any air in or out, potentially trapping carbon monoxide inside a residence. The average detector costs $55. 

"I think it is an investment saving lives," Hagedorn said. "I don't believe it's an unwarranted mandate."

Editorial: Fort Collins Police Restricted Response Policy is Risky

At what point is an alarm not alarming?

Fort Collins police have struggled for years to respond to thousands of burglar and panic alarms, most of which were false. Each time police are dispatched in an "emergent" manner to such alarms, they place themselves at risk by negotiating traffic. The cost to taxpayers, with two police cars dispatched to each incident, is enormous. In turn, police might be distracted by a false alarm call when they are needed more urgently elsewhere. 

Trying to balance public safety with budgetary realities, Fort Collins police have launched a six-month trial in which police officers will no longer be dispatched as "emergent" to burglary, panic and hold-up alarms unless additional information indicates they should get to the location. Instead, officers will investigate unverified alarms when time is available. Nor will officers automatically dispatch to homes or businesses when a panic alarm is sounded from an electronic keypad.

The Larimer County Sheriff's Office has faced similar situations. Last year, it instituted a policy in which multiple-incident false alarm offenders would be fined. In addition, all alarm owners in unincorporated Larimer County must register with the LCSO at an initial cost of $50, followed by a $25 annual re-registration fee.

While we disagree that anybody who happens to own an alarm should pay to register with the county or even the city, the system of fining multiple offenders is a reasonable solution.

Fort Collins police say they already have worked with repeat violators to reduce false alarm calls from 5,000 to about 3,000 a year. That's a positive approach. But requiring a fine for repeat violations also seems a sensible approach to deter ongoing offenders.

A policy based on fines also removes officers from the responsibility of having to make arbitrary judgments regarding alarms.

While the need for such a pilot is obvious, the proposed solutions seem counterintuitive to alarm users who install such systems out of concern for their safety and a trust in law enforcement. The first time that police do not respond to an alarm when they are urgently needed is the last time the department will be trusted to serve and protect. This is a game of roulette that law enforcement should not play.

Fort Collins, CO, Experimenting with Verified Response Policy

A change in how Fort Collins, CO, police respond to burglar, hold-up and panic alarms is raising concerns.

Sending two police cars, with lights and sirens blaring, to every one of those alarms doesn't make a lot of sense, patrol Capt. Don Vagge said.

"What we're trying to do is evaluate how we can better utilize limited police responses ... and better prioritize the use of the officers' time," Vagge said.

A six-month trial that started last month no longer automatically sends officers "emergent" to burglary, panic and hold-up alarms unless there's something to suggest they should get there faster.

That could include knowledge about what kind of store the alarm is coming from, such as firearm and liquor stores.

Under the new policy, officers will check out unverified alarms when they have time.

The change also means the police no longer automatically go to homes or businesses when there's a panic alarm coming from a keypad because someone mistyped the alarm code. And the department won't send officers to alarms when there's someone present but lacks the proper codes to disable the system.

Many other Front Range cities have similar policies. Some have laws requiring that frequent "false alarm" violators be fined if they don't fix their problem.

Vagge said Fort Collins has long had a policy of not responding to businesses with multiple false alarms - defined as two in 30 days or eight in 365 days.

Police work with those home or business owners to get off the list of frequent violators and have dropped the number of false alarms in the city from 5,000 in 2000 to about 3,000 last year, Vagge said. The new policy is an extension of that effort, he said.

Ann Lindstrom, a spokeswoman for alarm company ADT, said her company prefers to work with police departments to address the problem of false alarms, rather than going to what she called Fort Collins' "broadcast and file" system.

"The fact is that 80 percent of false alarms are triggered by 20 percent of alarm users. Targeting the offenders, using a fine-and-fee structure, is a much better alternative than deciding they won't respond," Lindstrom said.

She said burglars who know police might take their time responding to an alarm would have more time to break in then flee.

"Certainly alarm systems in conjunction with effective law enforcement can deter, detect and defend against crime," Lindstrom said. "Nationwide, we have been working closely with police departments to help establish a model ordinance that can balance public safety with the need to allocate scarce police department resources."

Vagge said the public will likely not notice the change in policy, which is meant as a six-month experiment.

Owasso, OK, Law Lauded for Curbing False Alarms

The Owasso, OK, Police Department is hailing the success of a new alarm company registration ordinance. 

The measure limits the number of false intrusion alarms for homes and businesses and lets police issue citations to habitual offenders. Moreover, it requires all alarm companies to register if they want to provide monitoring service in the city. 

Since the ordinance became effective Nov. 1, 2007, Owasso has seen the number of false alarms drop about 19 percent from the same period the previous year. 

Police Chief Dan Yancey said the department's goal is to reduce the false alarms by 50 percent, or to about 900 total, the first year. 

"It seems to be paying off," he said. "As people become more responsible in the ownership and control of their alarms, it's becoming a lot better." 

Owasso's ordinance allows for three false alarms within a year. A fine will be imposed the fourth time a false alarm is received at an address. The fine for a fourth false alarm is $100 and the fifth is $200. The fine for the sixth and subsequent alarms is $400. 

Fire or medical alarms are not included in the ordinance. Since the measure's enactment, 63 alarm companies have registered.

Moline, IL, Changes Fee Schedule for False Alarms

Aldermen in Moline, IL, have approved an ordinance that allows charging $60 to respond to each false alarm at a business or home after the first false alarm. Previously, the city gave businesses or homes three free passes on false alarms, then charged $150 to respond to each false alarm thereafter.

Celina, TX, Lowers Fees for Alarm Permits, Expands to Fire Alarms

A new burglar, robbery, fire and medical emergency assistance alarms ordinance has gone into affect in Celina, TX, according to Police Chief Joe Williams. Under the new ordinance, the cost for alarm registration and renewal has been cut in half to $25.

A city ordinance passed in 2000 required all residences in Celina had to register their alarm system with the city. It also stated that there was a $50 registration and a yearly renewal of $50, said Williams. “There are several reasons we are doing this. There is a lot of confusion in the community about if they must register alarms and if they do how much will it cost,” Williams said.

An annual, nonrefundable fee of $25 is required for each permit or renewal of a permit instead of the $50 fee. The permit is valid for a period of 12 months from the date of issuance.

Some residents told Williams that the fee was only $25 and not a reoccurring fees, other said it was $50.

“Some of the residents say they were told that it was a one time fee,” Williams said. “It’s very confusing and I wanted to clear it up.” 

The other problem with the 2000 alarm ordinance was it only covered burglar alarms.

“I want to expand the ordinance to cover robbery alarms, fire alarms and medical alarms,” he said.

He was concerned that a malfunction fire alarm would be sending the fire department to a home several times a week.

“This would have the fire department busy doing things it doesn’t need to be doing,” Williams said.

The ordinance will cover repeated false alarms in the following categories: five false burglar alarms in a twelve mouth period there will be no service charge, on the sixth false alarm a service charge fee of $50 can be issued, for false robbery alarms a service fee of $75 on the sixth false alarm. Fire alarms are different, two false fire alarms during a 12 month period there is no service charge but on the third false fire alarm a service charge of $75 can be issued. The same goes for false emergency medical alarms resulting in a possible $75 service charge on the third occurrence.

“We have this ordinance in order to make property owners response for their alarms,” Williams said. “This ordinance is not about money.”

It is important to have a permit issued by the police department.

“I am emphasizing this portion of the ordinance, for anyone getting a permit on or after Feb. 15, 2008 the $25 fee and the annual fee will be in place,” Williams said.

He stressed that service charges can be issued and not that they would be issued as it would depend upon each situation.

“If a fee is issued and we find out later it was an error, we will reimburse the money,” he said.

False alarms do happen even if the alarm is monitored and kept at peak operating condition.

For example bad weather, or high winds that might have set off the alarm would be an issue that the officer arriving at the scene would have to make a decision upon.

“We understand that false alarms are going to occur,” he said. “But once we get calls from the same address again and again this ordinance will help us to resolve the issue.”

The main reason for the permit is to gain information in case of an emergency, said Williams.

“All we want is compliance,” he said. “We want people to get a permit.”

The ordinance, the application for a permit and all the rules associated with the program will be available on the police web site or by calling the police station at 972-382-2121.

In Cobb County, GA, False Alarms To Result in Fines in 2009

A Cobb County law that fines owners of security systems that produce too many false alarms will not go into effect until 2009.

While the county commission approved the law and a registration requirement for homeowners and businesses, the board delayed the enforcement of the registration from the originally proposed July 1, 2008, target.

Like many communities, Cobb believes that registration and fines will cut down on the time police spend answering false alarms.

Fines of $50 begin after the third false alarm and run up to $300 for the 10th.

Officials estimate there are about 39,000 security alarms in Cobb.

Too many false alarms will soon result in fines

Any Marion business owner or resident who frequently trips the police alarm by accident may want to take precautions to see that it doesn't continue to happen, or they may soon be a little lighter in the wallet.

The Marion City Council Wednesday passed a new ordinance calling for fines to be assessed when false alarms occur regularly.

"We had 492 false police alarms last year," said Police Commissioner Jay Rix. "That's why it was important to put some teeth into this ordinance. Many of the calls come from the same places over and over again."

Police Chief Gene Goolsby said calls will be tracked more closely. He said that each time an automatic alarm goes off, one of his officers will respond to the scene even if the business owner or resident calls to say it was an accident and not an emergency.

Goolsby said everyone will get three free passes in a calendar year, but the fourth violation will result in a $50 fine. Each additional violation will cost $75.

"There's still some tweaking to do, but it's a good ordinance," Goolsby said. "We've needed something like this for a long time now. Many other cities our size already have one in place, like Carbondale, for example."

Goolsby said the ordinance will most likely go into effect May 1, the start of the new fiscal year for the city.

Celina, TX, Expands Alarm Ordinance, Reduces Registration Fee

A new burglar, robbery, fire and medical emergency assistance alarms ordinance recently went into affect according to Celina Police Chief Joe Williams.

“There are several reasons we are doing this. There is a lot of confusion in the community about if they must register alarms and if they do how much will it cost,” Williams said.

The new ordinance also cuts the registration fee from $50 to $25. The permit is valid for a period of 12 months from the date of issuance and requires a $25 annual renewal fee.

The ordinance will cover repeated false alarms in the following categories: five false burglar alarms in a twelve mouth period there will be no service charge, on the sixth false alarm a service charge fee of $50 can be issued, for false robbery alarms a service fee of $75 on the sixth false alarm. Fire alarms are different, two false fire alarms during a 12 month period there is no service charge but on the third false fire alarm a service charge of $75 can be issued. The same goes for false emergency medical alarms resulting in a possible $75 service charge on the third occurrence.

“We have this ordinance in order to make property owners response for their alarms,” Williams said. “This ordinance is not about money. We understand that false alarms are going to occur. But once we get calls from the same address again and again this ordinance will help us to resolve the issue.”

Wisconsin Towns’ False Alarms Get Expensive

In Wisconsin, La Crosse and Onalaska police departments are among law enforcement agencies nationwide that are charging business or home owners when summoned too many times by false alarms.

“The majority of them come in as unfounded because of operator error — things like the alarm being kicked off by an employee by mistake ...,” La Crosse police Sgt. Randy Rank said. “But we still treat each alarm as legitimate.”

La Crosse’s ordinance calls for charging fees after an address has more than four alarms “discharged falsely, accidentally, or by negligence, including lack of maintenance, except by an act of God.”

The fees are $50 for five to nine alarms and $100 for each false alarm over nine. Not paying within 30 days draws an additional $20 penalty, the city’s ordinance states.

The city billed 23 permit holders for exceeding the five alarm limit between July 1, 2006, and June 30, 2007, Rank said. Twelve more have been cited since July 1, he added.

Onalaska has a similar policy but only allows two false alarms. It charges $25 for the third, $35 for the fourth, $45 for the fifth and $65 for each additional alarm.

La Crosse County sheriff’s Capt. Mike Horstman said the county hasn’t adopted a false alarm penalty.

“While it’s a useful ordinance and has its place, we would have to have someone track every alarm call to see how many come back as false. Then they would have to do the billing and documenting who has paid and we just don’t have the staff for that,” Horstman said.

State Senator from Maine Wants CO-Detector Law

A carbon monoxide emergency in the town of Mexico, Maine, is once again raising awareness about the importance of carbon monoxide detectors.

Recently, the Region 9 School of Applied Technology was evacuated after a carbon monoxide detector went off. Twenty-three students and staff members were taken to the hospital after becoming sick, but all are OK now. The school's director credits the carbon monoxide detector in the building with saving lives.

The detectors are not mandatory for any buildings, but state Senator Bill Diamond of Windham would like to see that change. Senator Diamond may sponsor a bill to make carbon monoxide detectors mandatory in public buildings. But in the meantime, he's hoping the state could use grants and private donations to encourage all Mainers to put the monitors in their homes.

Senator Diamond tried to get a bill passed last year that would have made detectors mandatory for all buildings after a father and son from Windham died of carbon monoxide poisoning in their home. Lawmakers did not like the idea of putting another mandate on private homeowners, and the effort failed.

Carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless, and carbon monoxide detectors can be your only warning that the levels in your home are toxic. The detectors cost about $40.

Holland, MI, Fire Department Wants to Fine for False Alarms

The Holland Fire Department was called to more false alarms in 2007 than any year in the last decade.
These calls cost the department time and money, so it is proposing a fine for repeat offenders, said fire department officials.

The ordinance goes before the Holland City Council for first reading today at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at city hall, 270 S. River Ave.

Many buildings, such as large apartment complexes and industrial sites, are now required to have built-in alarms, increasing the chance for false alarms, Holland Fire Chief Dan Henderson said.

"The purpose of this ordinance is not to generate revenue for the city or even to offset the costs of responding to a call," Henderson said. "It's really a motivator to system owners to keep their systems in repair."

"There is a cost every time that equipment rolls both in dollars and in the sense that if they're out on a false alarm and a legit alarm comes in, there's going to be harm," Holland Mayor Pro-Tem Bob Vande Vusse said. "I don't think it's an unreasonable approach."

"We still want people to call us and we'll still go out there and check it out," Henderson said.

Under the proposed ordinance, the first two false alarms in a year would be free. Starting with the third false alarm, a $250 fine would be charged to the system owners.

A false alarms includes misuse, mechanical failure, malfunction or improper installation.

As an example, if a forklift was to knock off a sprinkler head and trigger an automatic call to the fire department, that would be considered a false alarm, Henderson said. If an alarm is not set up properly and continues to go off without cause, that would also be considered a false alarm.

However, he said, if a person burned toast and set off the alarm, that would not be a false alarm. In that case, the alarm would be working as it should.

Fines Proposed For False Fire Alarms in Los Angeles

Angelenos whose security or fire alarms inadvertently go off and result in a visit from the Los Angeles Fire Department would be fined under a policy proposed by a city councilwoman.

False alarms cost the city of Los Angeles $27 million from 2004 to 2006, according to Los Angeles City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel's office. "When firefighters respond to a false alarm, they are depleting resources that could be used to respond to legitimate, life-threatening emergencies," Greuel said. "We are letting people know that if you pull a fire alarm, you will get burned."

The city currently has a $115 false alarm fine when the Los Angeles Police Department is called. However, a fine does not apply when the LAFD is called. The fire department has responded to 88,000 false alarms in the last three years. "It is illogical for the false-alarm billing policy to apply when the LAPD is called and not the LAFD. Closing this loop will allow us to save money, while serving as a deterrent to these amateur pranks," Greuel said.

Frederick, MD, Now Requires Alarm Registration

The City of Frederick, MD, now requires alarm users to complete and application and register with the city. The new ordinance also requires alarm owners to notify the police department within seven days of any change in the information supplied on the application form, including but not limited to the alarm user’s address or phone number.

Every alarm user must also renew the alarm system registration annually between December 1st and December 31st, starting with the 2008 calendar year, regardless of when the initial registration was done.

The City of Frederick will not impose a penalty for the first false alarm violation, but a second and any subsequent violations are punishable by fine of $100.00.

Dingman, PA, Fire Chief Wants to Fine for False Alarms

In Pennsylvania, Dingman Fire Chief Bill Mikulak recently called for an ordinance that will allow the department to collect fees for non-emergency calls. 

“For instance we got called out to retrieve a car that had gone through the ice on one of our township lakes. The police ask us to get the car out because private wrecking companies won’t go out on the ice,” said Mikulak. He went on to say, “The same should hold true for false alarms. We don’t mind going on a false alarm once or twice, but when we have to go more than three times to the same residence or business we need to get paid.”

“The State Police can write summonses after they answer the third false burglar alarm so why not us?” questioned Mikulak.

Gilbert, AZ, Offers Alarm Classes in Lieu of Fines

To inform town residents and business owners about the impact the calls have, Gilbert, AZ, police have begun a series of false alarm awareness classes that will be held every month.

Gilbert police alarm specialist Robert Schubert along with Clyde Allred, a retired officer of 20 years, explained how police handle the calls, ways to prevent false alarms, and how they affect the safety of local businesses and homes.

Schubert said most false alarms are easy to prevent and that most are caused by three factors: environment, people and equipment.

The time spent on false alarms pulls officers from patrolling areas to prevent crime and can hinder them from responding to a real emergency. Frequent false alarms at the same location can also desensitize police, Allred said.

"After a while it can get routine," he said. "It can become a case where officers take them for granted - kind of like the boy who cried wolf."

The town adopted a new fine schedule for false alarms last year to curb the increase.

The town now charges $50 dollars on the third offense. And $50 is tacked on for each additional false alarm. The first two and true alarms are not charged.

Those who attend the classes receive a $50 waiver toward alarm violations.

For information, visit or call (480) 503-6500.