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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

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8/17/2013 6:03:00 AM
Prescott tweaks false-alarm ordinance
Prescott Valley council mulls fines for repeat false alarms

The Daily Courier

PRESCOTT VALLEY - Ninety-nine and a half percent of alarms turn out to be false, and responding to them costs police departments "quite a bit of money," Interim Prescott Valley Police Chief James Edelstein said.

Edelstein came up with a proposal for civil fines for businesses and residences that are repeat offenders, and presented it at a work/study session of the Town Council Thursday.

Edelstein is suggesting revising the town code, which currently provides a criminal penalty of $8 after more than two false alarms in the same month. The fine increases to a maximum of $24 if incidents occur often enough during the same month.

The police department does not use the existing code because the prosecutor and judge find it difficult to assign criminal liability to someone who might not be responsible for the alarm, Edelstein stated in a report to the council.

Edelstein is calling for a civil fine and registration process for homeowners or businesses with false alarms, requiring the monitoring station (alarm companies) to make two phone calls before notifying police, and enforcing the new code through a third-party vendor.

He stated that, currently, alarm companies call police dispatch after an alarm goes off. The dispatcher assumes a burglary occurred and puts out a call for service. Two police officers roll out to the scene, only to find no sign of forced entry.

A sign swinging in the breeze could trigger an alarm, Edelstein said.

He estimated police here have responded to approximately 1,200 calls for burglary and robbery alarms each year over the past decade. Police spent 620 hours responding to false alarms in 2011.

Based on a study that determined each false alarm costs $85 for officer response, Edelstein projected costs over a decade at $969,000. However, he told the council that costs in Prescott Valley likely would be much lower "because we do business for less money."

He said a major cause for false alarms is employees of businesses not being properly trained in deactivating alarms. Another cause is carelessness.

Edelstein said he talked to officials in the cities of Prescott, Flagstaff and Phoenix, and alarm companies.

The City of Prescott implemented a false-alarm ordinance July 1, 2011, that imposed fines for repeat offenders. Under the ordinance, owners face fines in $100 increments after two false-alarm warnings.

The ordinance followed complaints from the police department about the costs of responding to false alarms. When the police department initially took the issue to the city council in 2010, it reported that officers were responding to about 3,000 false alarms per year.

Edelstein told the town council, "I'm not looking to penalize anyone." He recommends a six-month grace period before the fines go into effect.

Edelstein suggested requiring first-time violators to attend an online class, similar in concept to traffic school. Vendors could conduct the class.

Responding to a question from Councilman Michael Whiting, Edelstein said, "We are not going to stop responding to these calls."

Vice Mayor Lora Lee Nye commented, "I find myself very frustrated by this need." She indicated that she backs Edelstein's proposal because it calls for responsibility and accountability.

Edelstein said he will need about a month to work on the proposal before bringing it to the council for a vote.

Cindy Barks
The Daily Courier

PRESCOTT - An ordinance that the City of Prescott adopted two years ago in an attempt to reduce the time that police officers spend responding to false alarms continues to be refined by the City Council.

In July 2011, the city implemented an ordinance that imposed fines for owners of security alarm systems after two false-alarm warnings.

When the police department initially took the issue to the council in 2010, it reported that officers were responding to nearly 3,000 false alarms per year, resulting in hundreds of hours a year in time spent on non-emergency situations.

The council ultimately approved an ordinance that imposed fines in $100 increments after two false-alarm warnings.

Since then, the number of false alarms in the city has dropped by about 30 percent, Deputy Police Chief Andy Reinhardt told the City Council this week.

"We are responding to about 1,000 less false-alarm calls," Reinhardt said.

In an effort to "enhance the accuracy, timeliness and effectiveness" of the ordinance, the police department took several recommended changes to the council this past week.

Much of the discussion at Tuesday's council meeting focused on the recommended revision that would have excluded private and charter schools from the ordinance's exemption for "government agencies."

That recommendation elicited strong objections from a number of local charter schools.

Mary Ellen Halvorson of Tri-City Prep High School referred to the proposed change as a "distinction and discrimination among public schools." She added: "Charter schools need to be recognized as government agencies."

Now-retired State Sen. Linda Gray also spoke on the public nature of charter schools. "It was the intent of the legislature that charter schools be public schools," Gray told the council. "They are funded totally by tax dollars."

Councilman Chris Kuknyo agreed that the city should not distinguish between the various types of schools. "To make a difference between public and charter schools is ridiculous," he said.

But, Kuknyo added, "My question is why are we exempting anybody? When it comes to government versus the public, I think we should all be playing under the same rule."

The rest of the council agreed, unanimously approving the other recommended changes, but deleting the exemption issue.

Other changes include:

• Defining "response." Reinhardt explained that some people, while appealing their false-alarm fines, have claimed that the police department never arrived at their home or business - "so you didn't respond."

The new definition for "response" states: "Any action by the communications center, dispatch, police department or communications personnel that generates an action to include: city communications or other city personnel answering a false alarm call generated by the alarm user's company; city communications or other city personnel entering a call for service into the police computer aided dispatch (CAD) system; dispatching a call for service to a police officer(s); a police officer attempting, initiating or completing travel to an alarm location."

• A requirement that owners must register their security alarms after the first false alarm.

"Continual issues have occurred due to the difficulty of identifying the responsible party (alarm user)," stated a city memo. "This has resulted in improper billing, inefficient processing and handling of false alarm bills, and decreased efficiency on the part of the alarm coordinator to research user information."

After the first false alarm, owners will be required to complete a registration form within 30 days. Failure to comply would come with an assessment of $30.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Sunday, August 18, 2013
Article comment by: local guy

So, how much will our taxes be decreased from cops going on 1000 less calls and city coffers being fattened up by ridiculous fines? Yeah, that's what I thought...

Posted: Saturday, August 17, 2013
Article comment by: Still Secure

Since police and fire departments are employed to protect their communities, why even consider fees? If lightning strikes, heat variations, cobwebs, and motion detectors trigger alarms, are we not already paying our public servants who are on patrol 24/7 a salary? This is similar to asking everyone who calls for police or fire assistance to pay mileage fees to come to their home. Whatever happened to police community relations where officers still spoke and investigated complaints or concerns as part of their jobs?

Posted: Saturday, August 17, 2013
Article comment by: the 1/2 per cent

Did the response of the police to the 1/2 per cent that are not false alarms result in any arrests? If not,why even have the police respond?

Posted: Saturday, August 17, 2013
Article comment by: D Cox

How about just putting an alarm site with more than two false alarms on a Do Not Respond list at the dispatch center?

That would take care of a lot of this nonsense and cut paperwork to almost nothing.

Posted: Saturday, August 17, 2013
Article comment by: Byte Me

"Edelstein is calling for a civil fine and registration process for homeowners or businesses with false alarms, requiring the monitoring station (alarm companies) to make two phone calls before notifying police, and enforcing the new code through a third-party vendor." Boy, PV just loves to a find new revenue sources and then spend the money by hiring a 3rd party to administer it. Phone radar work well for you too, didn't it. Can I get a cop to throw away my alarm ticket too?

Posted: Saturday, August 17, 2013
Article comment by: Tellthe Truth

I totally agree with the new rules for false alarms. Now just wait for the complaints to come rolling in from those who receive these fines like, " that's unfair".

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