October 2009 - Posts
<p><a href="http://verdenews.com/main.asp?SectionID=1&subsectionID=1&articleID=33245" target="_blank">Cottonwood, AZ, Police and Fire Departments are trying to reduce the number of false alarms to which they chronically respond.</a><br>
Police Chief Jody Fanning says cops were dispatched to 254 alarm calls during the first half of 2009, but that 251 were false alarms. The Cottonwood Fire Department went on 44 false alarms. "We have no recourse if the alarm sounds two to three times a night; officers go "lights and sirens.'" <br>
The amended alarm ordinance, which had its first reading Tuesday, would not require contact with a "business owner' but a store or property manager. The number of false alarms would be a reduced before penalty would be assessed. The penalties would increase on the third and subsequent false alarm. Penalties would also be imposed if a business does not make available responsible party information. Unpaid penalties would be collectible before a business license could be renewed. <br>
Fanning says the Police Department was called to the same business nine times on false alarms this year and 34 times in 2008. All of the alarms were false.<br>
Officers responding to alarm calls build up stress of an "adrenaline dump" from a call, or suffer from "the boy who cried wolf" complacency, Fanning advised.<br>
Under the new law, a business owner would be fined $50 for the third false alarm in a calendar year, $100 for the fourth call, $250 for the fifth and $500 for each subsequent false alarm.<br>
In an effort to cut down false alarms and bring in revenue, Franklin Park, IL, trustees voted to raise fines and reduce the number of free false alarms.
The number of false alarms a business or homeowner can have without incurring a fine has been reduced from four to two during a 12-month period.
The cost of fines will increase from $50 to as much as $200 for residences (depending on the number of false alarms) and as much as $250 for businesses.
False alarms caused by bad weather, telephone or electrical interruptions and within 30 days of an alarm system being installed will not be charged.
From May 1 to Oct. 19, Franklin Park police responded to 258 false alarms while the fire department responded to 177.
Police Chief Joe Patti said a false alarm ties up at least two squad cars unnecessarily and could distract police from a real emergency.
Fire Department Captain Mark White said firefighters have occasionally been distracted by false alarms, though he added what should get defined as a false alarm can be unclear.
"If someone pulled a manual alarm because they thought they saw smoke," White said. "The person had good intentions. Or if a business is closed for a weekend and the custodian turns down the heat and a pipe bursts. We find that and shut it down. We save (the business) thousands and thousands and dollars. It really is a gray area."
When Erin Martin of Suffolk, VA, received a $25 bill from a Colorado company she didn’t recognize, she thought it was a scam and threw it in the trash.
Two months, a late fee and several phone calls later, she realized it was a bill for the annual registration fee for her burglary alarm system, part of a Suffolk program begun in April to reduce the number of false burglary alarms that occur in the city.
The bill Martin received came from Alarm Tracking and Billing Services, based in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“On the bottom of it was this phony-looking city of Suffolk logo,” Martin said. “I threw it in the trash.”
A couple of months later, Martin began receiving what she described as “nasty” phone calls, and also was slapped with a 100 percent late charge on the original $25 bill.
That’s when she called the city and found out it was legitimate, she said.
“I really don’t think this is fair,” she said. “I was never notified of this. I had a few friends that did the same thing I did, just threw it in the trash.”
When Martin called the city, however, she found she and her friends weren’t the only ones.
“The woman that answered the phone said, ‘If I had a dollar for everyone of these phone calls, I’d be able to retire,’” Martin said. “It was nice to know that I wasn’t the only one having that problem.”
The city, Martin said, resolved her problem quickly, wiping the late fee off her account and only asking her to pay the initial $25 registration fee.
“When I eventually got to people with the city, I was really happy with the way they handled it for me,” she said. “I think they handled it poorly initially.”
Suffolk Police Capt. Stephanie Burch said the program, meant to reduce the number of false burglary alarms, appears to have been successful with only five months of data.
In the two years before the regulations took effect, the police department responded to about 10,400 needless burglary, robbery and panic alarms at Suffolk homes and businesses.
However, between April 1 and Aug. 31 this year, the city saw a 22 percent reduction in false alarm calls compared to the same time frame last year.
“That’s pretty good, considering we only have five months worth of data to really work with,” Burch said. “We’re ahead of what we anticipated.”
“That translates into hundreds of hours of manpower saved,” noted city spokeswoman Debbie George.
Burch said calls about the ordinance have come in to her office, but “proportionally speaking a very small number of the 7,600 alarm owners or users in the city.”
“A very, very small portion of those people have called in to say they didn’t know anything about it,” she said. “We did a good job on the front side through public meetings, electronic and print media. There’s always going to be people who maybe are not plugged into those mediums.”
Martin said she thought the city should have sent letters notifying residents of the new regulation, rather than just the registration bill that she thought was false.
George encouraged anybody who receives mail that appears to be a scam to contact the police department, and also encouraged any alarm owners who hadn’t yet registered to go ahead and register.
“We want all of our alarm owners registered and in compliance with the program,” George said.
“We’re very pleased with what’s been accomplished so far,” Burch said.
For more information on the alarm program, call 514-7927 to speak with a police officer, or 1-866-950-8185 for Alarm Tracking and Billing Services.
About 10 people attended the Morgan County, West
Virgina, Commission’s public hearing Thursday night on a proposed false-alarm ordinance.
Because the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department spends a lot of time responding to nuisance alarms caused by weather changes or pets that trigger the security alarms, Morgan County Sheriff Vince Shambaugh asked the commission to look into a false-alarm ordinance that is based on the one used in Tucker County, W.Va.
Shambaugh said his department responds to about 20 to 40 calls a month that are false alarms.
Resident Phil Spriggs said his alarm went off only once in 20 years and that was because it was struck by lighting.
The alarm has to be serviced every year, he said. “It’s a personal responsibility.”
Lou Clawges of Security Electronics said instead of putting an ordinance in place, about 99 percent of the false alarms would be eliminated if a double-alarm system were in place.
“If the motion detector goes off twice, somebody got in,” Clawges said.
He said every big city is using double alarms.
Clawges said there is no extra charge for the double-alarm system. With that system, a second alarm must sound within five minutes before 911 is contacted. If there is no second alarm, the first alarm was false, he said.
Resident John Ramming said he believes people who get alarms want to support law enforcement.
“The double-alarm system is a wonderful way of doing it,” he said.
Commission President Brenda J. Hutchinson, Commissioner Thomas R. Swaim and Shambaugh said they liked the idea of the double-alarm system.
Hutchinson said the double-alarm system needs to be explored. Shambaugh will find out more about the system, the alarm system companies in the county and what the 911 requirements are for registering an alarm, and he will report to the commission what he learns.
A new state law in Maine requires carbon monoxide detectors in homes and apartments and everyone affected sees the law as beneficial.
The law is intended to protect Maine residents from carbon monoxide poisoning.
It requires carbon monoxide detectors in all apartments, rental homes, new homes and homes that are sold or transferred.
"It's definitely a good thing. Carbon monoxide is a issue. We had a issue last year at some apartments in Brewer and in fact on Monday, we had a carbon monoxide call here in Bangor."
With the Winter months approaching, Jason Johnson of the Bangor Fire Department says there's even more danger of carbon monoxide poisoning.
"Carbon monoxide can be produced anytime anything burns. And where we predominately see it is with gas stoves, gas furnaces and oil furnaces."
Richard Taylor, with the Fire Marshal's office, says they've received several calls from apartment owners and realtors wondering what types of detectors can be used.
"Either plugged in device, which will go right into a wall outlet, or can be hard-wired, which means wired right into the building's electrical system. But it also has to be battery backed up."
Taylor says while folks have had many questions, no one seems to be opposed to the new law.
"Most people think it was a good idea generally that something needed to be done to address carbon monoxide poisoning in the state of Maine."
Earl Black, President of Town and Country Realtors, says he's been advising buyers on the new law.
"So I don't think it's a bad law. I think that anytime you can protect people or people can help protect themselves by simply plugging in a carbon monoxide detector, I think that's fine."
Fire departments have several options to make sure detectors have been installed.
"When an apartment first opens, we go in then. A lot of it we do random checks. The final thing is if we have complaints, we go in and do inspections then."
Johnson says detectors usually run 20 to 60 dollars, which can add up quickly when dealing with an apartment complex.
But johnson says it can save your life.
"To be quite honest this is a good time to buy them because this is fire prevention month and as a result a lot of smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are on sale."
About 1,600 Madison Heights, MI, homes and businesses with alarm systems are being notified the city will fine them for repeated false alarms on their systems.
"Over 95 percent of the alarms we respond to are false alarms," said Madison Heights Police Chief Kevin Sagan. "On average we respond to about 2,100 false alarms per year."
The city's police and fire departments spend about 10 percent of their time responding to false alarms.
The City Council earlier this year set up a new ordinance with a fine schedule for private alarm owners whose systems consistently go off when there is no real emergency.
"We are tying up a large amount of time with our police and fire services responding to false alarms created by mechanical flaws in the system or a lack of training by the users," said City Manager John Austin. "If our people are tied up on false alarms it is going to delay our (public safety) response to legitimate calls."
The city last week began mailing postcards to alarm system owners citywide.
Sagan said his department spends more time responding to false alarms than his officers do stopping and ticketing traffic violators.
"We want to educate (alarm owners) to have their systems functioning correctly and for them to operate it correctly," he said.
The new alarm ordinance fines owners $50 after the third false alarm police have to respond to. The fourth through sixth false alarms cost $100 in fines, with a repair and update inspection required for the sixth offense. A seventh false alarm results in the owner being charged as a public nuisance, a criminal misdemeanor.
"We're analyzing our manpower and trying to be as effective as we can," Austin said.
Many other nearby cities, such as Troy, Sterling Heights, Warren, Hazel Park and Ferndale already have false-alarm ordinances on their books.
Ferndale Police Chief Michael Kitchen said he has seen false alarm reports go down every year since city officials enacted a similar ordinance more than 17 years ago.
"The ordinance has had the desired effect of significantly reducing false alarms," he said.
About 1,400 home and business owners in Ferndale have alarm systems, according to police records.
In 2006, police had to respond to about 600 false alarms. As of last month, there had been only 339 false alarms.
"We expect the number of false alarms to continue to decline each year because of our ordinance," Kitchen said.
Charles County, MD, commissioners recently doubled the financial penalties for false alarms and registration fees for alarms systems.
Last week, a unanimous vote by the board amended the false alarm ordinance to include an increase of the business alarm fine from $150 to $300, and a jump in licensing fees for the business alarm from $50 to $100. The approved changes also increase business alarm reinstatement fees from $100 to $200.
"They're just not complying," said William Stephens, director of emergency services for the county. "We're trying to give them greater incentive to register alarms."
From a survey of 11 jurisdictions, Stephens learned Charles County had markedly lower penalties that its neighbors; the average is $405 for an alarm business fine and $110 for a licensing fee.
"Ultimately the reduction in false alarms is what we're after, not creating a funding source," said Commissioner Samuel N. Graves Jr. (D).
A synopsis presented by Stephens indicated the fiscal 2009 fees totaled $48,900. With the approved hike in fines, it's anticipated the county will bring in $97,800 for fiscal 2010.
"We've been pretty successful in this county getting private businesses to clean up some antiquated alarm systems that were giving us a lot of false alarms … so your program has had a lot of success and I applaud you for that," Graves said. "Raising the fees... maybe this will be the way to make fines steep enough to make [installation companies] start complying because it's important they feed that information in upfront, and the user doesn't get caught up in the tail end and have steeper fines."
In the last 12 months there have been a little more than 8,000 calls for answering alarms, according to sheriff's office spokeswoman Diane Richardson, and a significant percentage, which she said she did not have exactly, are false alarm calls.
"We do respond to each and every call," said Richardson. "If we can eliminate those [false alarm calls] that certainly frees up those officers for patrol."
Stephens' office directs the county's false alarm reduction unit which is made up of police, fire and emergency services representatives.
For every alarm system an alarm business handles, it must register with the reduction unit or face a penalty for each system and alarm dispatch request issued for an unregistered setup.
"We have some of our alarm companies, who for whatever reason do not pay their fines when they fail to comply with the terms of the [reduction unit] ordinance," Stephens told the commissioners. "The second reason [for the modifications] is that the Charles County Board of Education made an inquiry to us."
Public schools spokeswoman Katie O'Malley-Simpson confirmed that false alarms caused by flukes such as rogue birds, bad weather or human error have proven costly for the schools.
"We are pleased there is another level of appeal," O'Malley-Simpson said.
She also said that on Tuesday the system was told it would not be exempt from the new fines.
O'Malley-Simpson said the school board would send a letter to the commissioners requesting an exemption.
She also said the schools would work to keep the false alarms to a minimum, as they are aware of the cost, manpower and safety issues to the emergency services and sheriff's personnel.
"It wasn't our intent to harm any government agency such as our government buildings or schools. However, we need to work with these agencies that are having problems to identify what they are," said Charles County commissioners' President F. Wayne Cooper (D). "The fines were impacting them, and with the budget crunches that's why they said something. They don't have the money to pay the fines … if we didn't have the budget crunch we probably wouldn't have addressed any of this."
The amendment also adds another level of appeal for cases by giving Stephens' office a say in the final ruling on false alarm scenarios with mitigating circumstances.
"This additional level of appeal is for anybody, but it will help the school district," Stephens said.
New Haven, CT, a new security alarm ordinance that would impose steeper fines for repeated false alarms — and have a mechanism to collect penalties — could be in place by the New Year.
The draft ordinance, approved last week by the aldermanic Public Safety Committee, goes before the full board Nov. 5. If approved as expected, the ordinance should be implemented in about 60 days, police said.
Here’s what it would mean: If you have a burglar alarm on your home or business, you will have to register with the city. It’s free. The computer system would then track false alarms and fine the consumer if they start adding up — $75 for the second false alarm, $150 for the third, and $250 for every one after that.
What it means for the alarm industry: Alarm monitoring services now would have to make two attempts to contact the subscriber before calling police, the first to the primary number and the second to an alternate, usually a cell phone. Since the vast majority of alarm trips are due to user error, industry officials say, that new second call requirement alone should reduce thousands of false alarms every year.
The department is ready to move forward as soon as it receives aldermanic approval, Officer Joe Avery
said. The computer software is up and running already, The 60-day lead time would be to allow time for subscribers to register and department officials to construct its database from that information.
“It’s just a lot of entering data,” Avery said.
The revised ordinance met with no opposition this time around. In 2004, the department scrapped its proposed “verified response” proposal that would have required alarm companies to verify an alarm trip as real before police would respond. It met with staunch opposition from the industry.
The new version, with its steeper fine and “second-call verification” was greeted more favorably, although the city did get opposition in July over a requirement to make alarm installers register with the city as a prerequisite to do business here.
The state already licenses electricians, and state statute allows them to work anywhere in the state without further requirements from any municipality, the industry countered, as it argued against the registration requirement.
That language was carved out and now businesses will only be required to show proof of registration with the state.
The existing ordinance does have a fine structure, but no money has been collected for years because of computer problems and staffing issues.
On Monday, Robert McVeigh, president of the Connecticut Alarm and System Integrators Association, gave the new ordinance the industry’s blessing.
“It’s been a long process. It’s been five years. We’ve been working together for a long time with a lot of back and forth,” he said. “We’re happy and now we’re working with Joe Avery trying to get some details worked out to get the information he needs.”
The ordinance could provide both the city and alarm industry with a new revenue stream, the city through its fines and the industry through service and repair work to existing alarms.
The City of Memphis plans to crack down on false alarm calls.
Every year the Memphis Police Department responds to more than 50,000 false alarm calls. Police say that costs the department between $3 million and $5 million dollars a year. Police say that time and money can be better spent fighting crime. Police Director, Larry Godwin says, “If the citizens of Memphis had to respond to these they would be livid.” Deputy Chief Joe Scott told city council members, “we need to men and women to be out doing crime suppression not answering false alarms.”
City council members are considering changing how and when you are fined for false calls. Right now, a person or business can have six false alarms before they are fined. The cost of the fine is $25. Under the new plan, a person is fined after the second false alarm. The fines and fees will total around $90 per call. After six false alarms, you can be put on the “do not respond” list.
A city council report found one of the worst offenders in the city is "Church’s Fried Chicken" on Getwell. During the first quarter of this year, police responded to more than 60 false alarms at that business. No one from Church’s would comment about the false alarms. City council members say it is not uncommon for businesses’ to have dozens of alarm calls each month.
Memphis Police say out of the tens of thousands of false alarm calls dispatched, just 900 were real calls. A few taxpayers we spoke with don’t like the idea of raising the fees and changing the rules. Darren Davis is one of the people who object to the changes. Davis says its just a way for the city of make more money, and Davis says answering false alarms in part of an officers job.
The Floyd County, IN, Sheriff’s Department has responded to 791 alarm calls this year, but only a few of those have been legitimate runs.
According to statistics compiled by the department, 98.9 percent of those calls turned out to be “false alarms.” Most were tripped inadvertently because of pets, user error or faulty equipment, police say.
That has Sheriff Darrell Mills mulling whether he should ask the Floyd County Commissioners to pass an ordinance allowing them to fine residents and businesses who repeatedly set off their security alarms.
“It can tie up your manpower,” Mills said. “We’re kind of doing the work of a private company. Alarm services like ADT (Security Services) call us to go check it out, but the taxpayers are ultimately eating the costs of that.”
Mills said, on average, it takes 13 minutes for an officer to respond to an alarm call and check that everything is OK. That adds up to nearly 170 hours Floyd County officers have spent this year responding to false alarms.
That does not include the cost of gasoline for officers to drive to the location. Mills said that if a panic alarm at a business is set off, they may send several officers to respond.
“I’m torn between whether I even want to ask the commissioners are not,” Mills said. “As the population of the county grows, the problem will increase. You have to offset those costs somehow.”
He hopes more publicity to the problem will raise awareness and make the fines unnecessary.
Mills said alarm systems can be beneficial, but he hopes business and home owners will ensure their systems are working properly and that anyone in the building knows the alarm code.
“We don’t mind responding, but what we don’t want to get into is going to the same home or same business on a routine basis because of a faulty alarm system or human error,” he said.
Mills said he may request a fine of $50 if they are called to a location more than five times in one month for any reason other than weather. The fine would increase with each false alarm.
While New Albany also has no ordinance on the books about fines for false alarms, most of the police departments in Clark County do.
Clark County, Jeffersonville and Clarksville all passed similar ordinances in 1992 and 1993 allowing fines for too many false alarm calls. The fourth and fifth false alarm in one year can result in a $25 fine. Each false alarm after the fifth one can result in a $50 fine.
“I haven’t enforced it since I’ve been sheriff,” Clark County Sheriff Danny Rodden said. “It is something I’ve thought about enforcing because we’ve had a lot of complaints about it.”
Rodden said most people will try to fix the problem when it is brought to their attention.
Steve Bush, president of the Floyd County Commissioners, said he would be willing to look into such an ordinance if the sheriff requests it. He said he would talk to local business owners to get their input as well.
Bush said the commissioners have never talked about the issue but police officers have.
“As a police officer, it’s been brought up many times,” said Bush, who is also a detective with the New Albany Police Department. “If it’s brought up (to the commissioners), we’ll take the public input. If it’s the right thing to do, it’s obviously something we’ll do. If not, we won’t.”
Bush said police officers can become complacent if the same business sets off the alarm frequently. Police may not respond as quickly because they assume it is another false alarm.
Mills said they respond to every alarm call, and he places some of the blame on the alarm companies.
He said sometimes the person will call their alarm company to tell them it was set off accidentally, but the alarm company never notifies police. In that instance, Mills said he thinks the alarm company should pay the fine.
In a move to reduce police time spent answering false alarms, the Bradenton, FL, City Council agreed to charge a $100 fine the second time police respond to a false alarm.
More than 3,000 times each year, police answer false alarms caused by faulty home and business security systems. More than 500 of those calls are second false alarms, and another 500 are third false alarms.
There are at least 50 places where police have answered false alarms 10 or more times within a year.
"It's costing us hundreds of man hours," Chief Michael Radzilowski said Wednesday. "... We're the ones paying the price for it."
Previously, a fine did not take effect until the fourth false alarm.
Councilman Patrick Roff and Radzilowski said the goal is to get violators to replace faulty systems. Property owners will not be fined if an alarm is triggered by a storm or other "act of nature," Radzilowski said.
The Evangeline Parish, LA, Police Jury referred to its legal adviser a recommendation to fashion an ordinance aimed at limiting the number of false fire alarm activations.
Ville Platte Fire Chief Ted Demoruelle said he recommends targeting faulty alarm systems in businesses and residences that keep activating time and again. In the past month, his department responded to the same business six times in a 24-hour period, he said. Instead of repairing the alarm, the business owner simply reset the alarm.
Demoruelle recommends no charge for the first alarm, a warning for the second false alarm and then billing the business or home owner $300 for the third false alarm.
“Our goal is not to bill or to fine people, but to encourage them to repair their alarms.,” Demourelle said. “It is a matter of public safety.”
The Beatrice, NE, City Council will meet on October 12 for its regular meeting to discuss a resolution that would increase the number of allowable false alarm calls from fire and burglary systems in Beatrice.
The council discussed the increase during its Sept. 28 work session. John Ray of Security Services told the council that the proposed plan to allow only one false alarm call per system did not allow for normal mechanical failures in the systems.
The proposal, as written, would have imposed a fine on the owner of any alarm that had more than one false alarm a month. Under the new proposal, the allowed number of false alarms would be raised to four.
The Bethel, PA, Township supervisors took a step toward securing the safety of their residents recently.
The board passed key-lockbox and emergency-alarm regulation ordinances.
According to the lockbox ordinance, several properties are required to have a key lockbox, including commercial sites with an automatic-alarm or automatic-suppression system, multi-family residences such as apartment buildings, government buildings, school facilities and nursing-care facilities.
"Hopefully, this will make it easier for our firefighters to do their job," said Beverly Martel, chairwoman of the supervisors.
The ordinance requires any new structures built in the township to have a lockbox installed.
"I would recommend everyone has one installed," Martel said.
"This is designed so the firefighters don't have to break down the doors," Supervisor Terry Knapp added.
Officials at local fire companies will have a key that will open each lockbox at each property. Inside the box is the key or keys needed to unlock any doors at the building.
Meanwhile, the emergency-alarm ordinance set penalties for any false alarms to which the three fire departments in the township respond.
After the first two false alarms in any year, the owner will receive a warning. For the third through fifth false alarms, there will be a $100 "administrative fee."
For the sixth through eighth false alarms, there will be a $500 fee. Any false alarms beyond nine will result in a $1,000 fee.
The Manvel, TX, Fire Alarm ordinance was changed during a recent council meeting.
“Many false alarms occur and our police department must answer all calls. No penalty could be assessed for false alarms previously because the City of Manvel did not require a permit for alarm systems," said Manvel Mayor Delores Martin. "With this change, we can now ticket the individual owners of alarm systems."
Three months after a house fire killed an Hesperia, CA, father and his two sons, the City Council is moving toward requiring that the owners and managers of rental housing annually certify that smoke detectors in homes are in good working order.
The council has directed city staff to write up an ordinance that will require owners of rental housing to certify that the smoke detectors in each unit or dwelling have been inspected at least once a year and are in good working order.
Representatives of two property management companies spoke out against the proposed ordinance, saying it would create a needless burden on both time and expense.
"We had a father and his two sons die about three blocks from here because they didn't have a smoke detector in their house," said Councilman Paul Bosacki. "This is not a vendetta against apartment or property owners: It's to protect renters."
On June 1, a fire in a Cajon Street house killed Gabriel Pineda and his 9- and 4-year-old sons.
Smoke detectors are required in residences by state law and county ordinance, although the city's new ordinance holds landlords to a higher standard by requiring landlords certify them on an annual basis.
"It's obvious that we can't look the other way and ignore those two little boys' deaths," Bosacki said. "We need to be proactive as a city council ... to make every effort to get smoke d e t e c t o rs i n t h e s e apartments or houses or whatever they may be. I don't think it's a prohibitive cost."
"People need to start taking some responsibility for their own safety," said Councilman Mike Leonard, a retired firefighter. "It's a shame we have to put this on the property owners and managers."
The smoke detector ordinance will be presented and voted on at a meeting later this fall.
The council recognized September as National Preparedness Month earlier in the meeting.