September 2008 - Posts

Barre, VT, Considers Billing for Fire Services

City councilors in Barre, VT, are considering an ordinance that would give their fire chief broad authority to bill people for a range of services his department currently provides free of charge.

In a move designed to boost revenue, councilors have agreed to discuss an ordinance that would enable the local fire and ambulance department to be reimbursed for responding to everything from false alarms and fender benders to someone summoning an ambulance because they'd fallen out of bed.

Currently those sorts of calls create a detectable drain on the department – accounting for a fair share of its call volume without any mechanism for the city to be reimbursed for its time and trouble.

That would change under an ordinance that will be read for the first time at next Tuesday's council meeting.

The proposed ordinance, which has occasionally been discussed, but never acted on in recent years, is a priority of a coalition of council members who recently lobbied Mayor Thomas Lauzon to make its adoption a high priority. Councilors Randy Copping, Scott Gagnon and Peter O'Grady have all voiced support for the ordinance that Lauzon admitted this week was "long overdue."

The ordinance, which is currently in draft form, would be administered by Fire Chief Peter John and invoices for services provided would be mailed at his discretion and be payable to the city within 30 days.

If adopted the proposed ordinance could create a significant new expense for owners of properties with sprinkler systems, fire alarms and smoke detectors that are directly wired to the city's public safety building triggering an automatic response from firefighters.

Although the ordinance would allow for three such "nuisance calls" per calendar year, false alarms at large structures, like North Barre Manor, Central Hotel, or the former Rouleau Granite plant on Metro Way, could easily generate an invoice well in excess of $1,000 based on hourly fees of $42.50 per firefighter and $175 to $300 for various fire apparatus. It is not unusual for 10 or more firefighters to respond with two or more fire trucks and occasionally an ambulance when an alarm sounds at one of those larger properties.

Those same fees would not apply in the event of an actual fire, unless it was a car fire, a "non-permitted burn," a "permitted burn" that got out of control due to negligence or a "wildland fire" that was caused by negligence.

The proposed ordinance also seeks to recover expenses associated with the department's routine response to most motor vehicle accidents, as well as non-emergency calls, ranging from "lift assists" to false calls from Medical Alert activations.

According to the draft ordinance, an invoice based on the department's level of response to motor vehicle accidents would be generated, and in the event of a multiple vehicles are involved pro-rated at the discretion of the fire chief among the drivers and vehicle owners involved.

Although both city residents and non-residents could be billed for the department's response to accidents where traffic tickets or citations are issued, only non-residents would be billed if no police action is taken, according to the proposed ordinance.

The proposed ordinance also anticipates an hourly fee of $130, not counting manpower, for non-emergency "medical assists." Lift assists – helping elderly residents who have fallen are among the more common non-emergency calls with many of them generated by tenants of subsidized housing owned and operated by the Barre Housing Authority.

The proposal would also create hourly fees for both "malicious incidents" and "special events." The latter category represents a range of non-emergency events where emergency personnel are required to be present as a precaution. Malicious incidents could range from someone intentionally setting a fire to setting off a fire alarm.

The council will discuss the proposed ordinance when it meets next Tuesday at 7 p.m. in City Hall.

False Alarms Could Cost Money in Beavercreek, OH

Too many false alarms with your home security system could cost you big bucks in Beavercreek, Ohio.

Many cities, including Dayton, say three false alarms to the police are the limit.

Now, Beavercreek is about to put the same ordinance into affect. You get three false alarms before you must pay.

City officials said if the alarms are caused by the weather, that is out of your control and doesn't count.

Beavercreek's Crime Prevention Specialist John Williams said, "Folks just aren't good with their alarms. They take them for granted, maybe leave open their windows. There are a lot of reasons for false alarms, but human error is number one."

Williams said responding to a false alarm costs the city $100.

Starting October 1, 2008, residents and businesses must register their alarm systems with the police department. They will be charged after their third false alarm in a 12-month period.

Michael Fisher of Beavercreek said he thinks that's fair. He has a home alarm system and has no problem with the new ordinance. Fisher said, "I think if a policeman's continuously going out to someone for excessive alarms, they should pay for that. It's good citizenship."

Police said the new ordinance will save the officer's valuable time and it will save the city a lot of money.

Alarm Systems Must be Registered in Cobb County, GA, by October 1

Starting next week, residential and commercial property owners in Cobb County, Georgia,  must begin registering their security systems to comply with an ordinance designed to reduce false alarms.

The County Commission on Tuesday took a step toward the implementation of the program by approving an agreement with a northern Virginia-based company to track false alarm incidents.

Registration is free, but the ordinance carries a $100 fine for failing to register.

Property owners would be notified of alarm ordinance violations by mail.

Mickey Lloyd, the county public safety director, told commissioners the ordinance has the potential to reduce instances of false alarm responses by 50 percent over five years.

The program, Lloyd said, “gives the property user accountability for their alarm systems.”

The agreement with contractor GTSI Corp. and subcontractor AOT Public Safety Corp. is for three years, and the county has the option to extend it for another three.

The companies would receive 70 percent of collected alarm ordinance fees after the county is reimbursed for program-related expenses.

Residents may register home and business security systems starting Oct. 1 with the Cobb County Police Department at www.cobbpolice.com, or on the county Web site at www.cobbcounty.org.

Enhanced Call Verification Reduces False Alarms by 40% in Eau Claire, WI

The fact the Eau Claire Police Department gets less funding per capita than most similarly sized departments in Wisconsin is something Police Chief Jerry Matysik is well aware of.

But he's also aware of the city's tight budget, and that finding money to hire more police officers anytime soon is highly unlikely.

As a result, Matysik says his department continually seeks ways to use officers' time more efficiently. 

One huge success is that the city has reduced responses to false alarms by charging the businesses for unwarranted dispatches. This policy has reduced false alarms by about 40 percent as businesses fix malfunctioning alarms, Matysik said. 


Police also require the alarm companies to first call the business owner to see if the alarm may have been tripped by mistake before contacting police, which has further reduced the false alarm workload.

Wilmington, DE, Eliminates Alarm Permit Renewal Fee

The $20 annual renewal fee associated with the Wilmington, DE, False Alarm Program was eliminated by City Council Thursday night.

The program, which went into effect last October, is designed to reduce the amount of false alarms from security systems in homes and businesses so police have more time to respond to legitimate calls. 

Council voted 12-1 in favor with Councilwoman Hanifa Shabazz dissenting. 

To date, the program appears to be successful. Before the program went into effect, the city responded to about 14,000 alarms each year -- about half of them false. Since Oct. 1, there have been only 4,724 alarms in the city, said Lt. Bruno Battaglia, the program’s administrator. 

But many constituents objected to the renewal fee, so Councilman Michael A. Brown Sr. introduced the measure to eliminate it. 

“This program was never about making money,” he said. “It was about making folks more aware of how their alarm system operates.”

First-timers to register their systems still have to pay a one-time $20 fee, Battaglia said. And existing participants would have to pay again if they move or get a new system. 

When the program began, city officials thought the renewal fees would be necessary for administrative costs, but now fines and penalties can pay for that, Battaglia said. 

The program has generated around $298,000, Battaglia said. About $93,000 has been from registration fees and $204,000 has been from fines and penalties. 

The first two false alarms are free. After that, fines for homeowners range from $100 to $250 and commercial properties’ fines begin at $250 and top out at $550.

The program is mandatory, but Battaglia said many people have rolled the dice in hopes that their alarm never goes off by accident. That’s an expensive proposition, as the penalty for not registering and having police respond is $100, in addition to the program’s existing fine structure. 

Battaglia said the program has made security system owners more accountable. Examples include a day care center moving mobiles from the ceiling that were repeatedly setting off alarms and a homeowner who finally fixed a faulty sensor in their door rather than facing fines. 

“Small things like that free us up to respond to the kinds of calls we really need to get to,” he said. 

The vendor, Affiliated Computer Services, will still receive the same amount of money to run the program, city Communications Director John Rago said.

No Permit, No Response in McKinney, Texas

All homeowners and business owners in McKinney, TX, have been required to register their alarm systems with the city since Oct. 1, 2007. Beginning Oct. 1 this year, the McKinney Police Department will end the year-long grace period and will no longer respond to burglar alarm systems not registered. In addition, failure to register an alarm system could result in a fine of up to $500. 

“We have given businesses and residents a year to adjust and register their alarm systems to be in compliance with the ordinance,” said McKinney Police Chief Doug Kowalski. “Responding to burglar alarms is our number one call for service. About 99 percent of the alarm calls we receive are false alarms, which takes time away from responding to true emergency calls. 

“Registering alarm systems with the city will enable the Police Department to build an accurate data base concerning which premises are protected by alarms and which locations are experiencing an inordinate number of false burglar alarms,” he continued. “By solving the false burglar alarm problem, our department will be able to devote more resources to pressing crime and quality of life issues. Additionally, the completion of the yearly registration will insure that the department has accurate emergency contact information for the permit holder in the event of true alarm activation.” 

The annual registration fees are $50 for residential and $100 for commercial/business alarm systems. An alarm system may consist of one type or various types of alarms including burglary, robbery, panic, duress, medical or fire. Each permit for an alarm system covers one building. All alarms initiated by a person, for example panic, hold-up or eye witness report of a crime, will continue to be responded to regardless of a permit. 

Alarm system registration payments can be made online at www.mckinneytexas.org; check by mail to City of McKinney, Alarm Program, P.O. Box 140549, Irving, TX 75014; or dropped off at the McKinney Police Department 2200 Taylor Burk Dr. during regular business hours. A new alarm system permit form must be filled out when making payment. Questions regarding obtaining permits may be directed to 972-831-7493

Dallas Chief Pushing for Tougher State Alarm Law

Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle might have lost the battle over the city's "verified response'' burglar alarm policy. 

But his department isn't giving up on the war. 

On Tuesday, members of the City Council's public safety committee were briefed on a plan by city officials to seek a change in state law to make it easier to impose a penalty for false alarms. 

Currently, a location can have three false alarms during a 12-month-period before the city can impose a fine. The city wants to be able to impose a fine after the first false alarm.

Great Barrington (MA) False Alarms May Turn Costly

Great Barrington, MA, Fire Chief Harry Jennings wants the town to get tough on false alarms.

With his department plagued by false alarms from buildings all over town, the chief has asked the Selectmen to establish a $100 fine for first-time infractions. The law currently carries no fine for a first false alarm and a $60 fine for subsequent false alarms within a calendar year.

In a letter to the board, Jennings noted that the Great Barrington Volunteer Fire Department has fewer volunteers than it did even a few years ago, and answering false alarms places a "serious burden" on local volunteers, who must leave their jobs or homes to answer the call.

Jennings asked for the fines to begin at $100 for the first false alarm, and go up by increments of $100 thereafter. Such a setup might move home and business owners to invest in more reliable alarm systems, he wrote.

Selectman Chairman Walter F. Atwood III said he understood the volunteers were particularly concerned with not just the number of false alarms to which they respond, but the fact that often the calls are to the same buildings, said Atwood.

Selectman Ronald Dlugosz said that such an increase may be necessary, noting that once residents are hit "in the pocketbook," they tend to pay more attention.

The board agreed to meet with Jennings and set up a hearing.

Fontana Law, Effective 10/9/08, to Fine Dealers for False Alarms

A new ordinance in Fontana, CA, revamps how police respond to residential burglar alarms. 

Police have complained that most alarms are false. But, Morgan Hertel, vice-president of the Inland Empire Alarm Association, says their role is merely to report alarms and oppose any changes. 

“We invited both the City Council and the police department to the table several times to discuss this and we’ve been declined each time.” 

Under Fontana’s revised ordinance, Deputy Police Chief Alan Hostetter says officers will respond to an alarm only if the monitoring company has verified an intrusion. 

“We estimate that responding to false alarms took up approximately the equivalent two full-time police officers’ time.” 

That translates to an annual cost of more than $250,000. 

Effective October 9th, monitoring companies will be fined if the alarms are unfounded. 

The city ordinance in Fontana is the first of its kind in the Inland Empire.

Bella Vista (AZ) Drafting Law to Combat False Alarms

An ordinance to penalize owners of repeat false fire and burglar alarms is being drafted by Bella Vista (AZ) City Attorney Jason Kelley.

Kelley expects the City Council to read the ordinance for the first time at a meeting at the end of the month, he said. He's researching other cities' ordinances.

The council must mull over issues such as the penalty amount and how many false alarms are too many, he said.

Alderman Arline Hutchinson asked Kelley to draft the ordinance after discussions with the police and fire chiefs. False alarms take officers off the street, she said.

While the ordinance isn't among the city's top priorities, it's one that should be in place, she said.

Police Chief James Wozniak said the ordinance is needed. Either one or two officers respond to every alarm, and that time could be spent elsewhere, he said.

"We're short-handed and every alarm we get we have to answer because we don't know if it is a false alarm," Wozniak said.

He'd like the city to enact an ordinance identical to a county ordinance the department enforced before Bella Vista incorporated in late 2006.

"It gave you a couple screw-ups so you didn't get nailed first time, every time," Wozniak said.

The county ordinance sets up a $100 fine for a fourth or more false alarm within six months. False alarms are defined as those caused by faulty equipment or negligence on the manufacturer, installer or user's part.

The ordinance exempts hospitals, schools, nursing homes, government agencies and buildings owned by property owners associations.
Fire Chief Steve Sims said his department gets false alarms but not as many as some may think.

Of the 493 alarms the department responded to last year, 78 were false, Sims said. Those range from carbon monoxide alarms to sprinkler activation. So far this year, the department has responded to 76 false alarms out of 413 alarms, Sims said.

Fontana, CA, Council Meeting for Alarm Law is on 9/9/08

An urgency amendment to Fontana's burglar alarm ordinance was deemed non-urgent by the City Council at a meeting in August when council members agreed to let the agenda item go through standard procedure before deciding on whether or not to adopt the change in policy.

The ordinance is scheduled to be introduced once again at the Sept. 9 meeting.

The Fontana Police Department changed the way it had for years been responding to alarms in the city when on Oct. 1, 2007, it switched to a Verified Response to deal with an increasing number of false burglar alarms in the city.

But a court ruling in May that stemmed from a lawsuit involving the Inland Empire Alarm Association determined the department must change its policy.

“We really look at this ordinance and go, ‘This is nothing we've ever seen before,” said Bryan Matthews, public relations counsel for the Dallas, Texas-based Security Industry Alarm Coalition.

He said Security Industry is a national organization that reviews many burglar alarm policies and that Fontana's is unique.

Newtown, CT, Law Allows PD to Not Respond after 10 False Alarms

The Newtown, CT, Legislative Council unanimously approved the controversial burglar alarm systems ordinance Wednesday night, after the "Lyddy amendment" was added, giving the chief of police the power to not send officers to check alarm dispatch calls for places that have had 10 false alarms in a 12-month period.

Under the amendment drafted by Legislative Council members Christopher Lyddy and Gary Davis, such offenders will get 30 days' notice of a hearing before the Police Commission. This elected body of five people will listen to the offender's explanation for the false alarms before approving a suspension of police response.

Any potential suspensions will go into effect on the written notification of the decision by registered mail to the alarm user and the alarm installation company.

When Lyddy proposed amending the ordinance Aug. 6, council member Pat Llodra expressed concern if the public knows about suspensions. She thought this might invite criminal activity at the properties.

Fran Pennarola, vice chair of the Legislative Council, said the amendment gives the offender the opportunity to reform his conduct. 

If the Police Commission decides a suspension is warranted, the chief will refuse response to an alarm dispatch request. 

Additionally, a police sergeant or shift supervisor may temporarily suspend response to a burglar alarm dispatch request if the shift supervisor thinks the alarm is false.

During the public participation period, Barbara O'Connor, of Littlebrook Lane, urged the council to vote no on the ordinance, suggesting steeper fines for false alarms rather than allowing the police to decide whether to respond. 

"We all know what happened to the boy who cried wolf," O'Connor said. "He got eaten by the wolf."

North Texas Targetted by Unlicensed Alarm Dealers

They knock on your door late at night or interrupt family dinners. And when you answer, they often give you a long-winded pitch for something you may not need or want. 

But unlike magazine salespeople or neighborhood kids pushing treats, alarm-system sellers must be licensed by the state. And some are unregistered, causing alarm across Texas. 

In June, the Texas Burglar and Fire Alarm Association warned Texans to use caution after San Antonio and Houston residents complained about unlicensed salespeople and their aggressive sales tactics.

Now the problem is slowly reaching North Texas.

"We have heard of these cases in Austin and Dallas," said Chris Russell, the alarm association president. "But I don't think they compare to the volume that came from San Antonio and Houston."

The Private Securities Bureau of the Texas Department of Public Safety launched investigations in San Antonio and Houston after officials noticed "an increased influx of unregistered alarm salespeople going door to door."

In light of the alarm association and DPS actions, Duncanville police have urged residents to take precautions as well. Police there say they've had problems recently with at least four unlicensed companies. 

Garland police said they have received complaints in the past month, too, but the matter was cleared up when the salespeople produced their city-issued solicitor's permit. It is not clear whether those salespeople also had proper state-supplied credentials.

Burglar-alarm salespeople and installers must register with the state. If not, unsuspecting homeowners might unwittingly make themselves easy targets for thieves who use being an alarm salesperson as a ruse to check out a home.

"If they're not licensed by the bureau, you don't know who you're letting into your home," Mr. Russell said. "You let them in and they scope out your home."

To become licensed, salespeople must work for a DPS-licensed alarm company. They must also be at least 18, not have been convicted of two or more felonies in the past 20 years and not be required to register as a sex offender in any state. 

Consumers approached by a door-to-door salesperson should ask for their "pocket card," a photo ID card issued by the Private Securities Bureau that salespeople are required to carry.

Soliciting alarm systems without a license has criminal penalties of up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Mr. Russell says some companies hire college students and dump them in neighborhoods without experience or the required background check. Posted on Craigslist, job listings for "residential security alarm sales positions" in the Dallas area promise commissions of $400 to $600 per sale and say the job is "perfect for students." 

Licensing applications are available through TexasOnline, the official eGovernment Web site for the state of Texas. The applicant is required to know his or her alarm company's license number; the online application allows the candidate to search a database on the department's Web site for the company's number. 

Capt. RenEarl Bowie of the Private Securities Bureau says the pocket card is mailed to the company, not the applicant. 

Out-of-state salespeople must register in Texas. If the company they work for is not based in Texas and does not have a local branch, it must relocate here and register. "A company from, say, Louisiana cannot send salespeople to Texas without registering here first," Capt. Bowie said. 

But that hasn't stopped some companies from trying. Carol Homan of Garland was approached by a salesman for a Utah-based alarm company. The salesman explained that he had 25 free alarm systems allocated for her ZIP code and that free installation was included. 

In return, all she supposedly had to do was put the company's sign on her front lawn. 

Ms. Homan said that when she asked to see the man's pocket card, he seemed to have no idea what she was talking about and became irate. A spokesman for the alarm company later said it has the required Texas license but couldn't address a specific salesperson.

"This is the kind of thing that gives everyone a bad name," said Ms. Homan, who owns a registered alarm company. "These people are dropped on communities to try and get as many systems installed without homeowners knowing what's going on."