Proposal: Fines for false alarms

WARREN – Police and fire personnel responded to an average of 3,500 home and business alarms annually over the last five years, and between 90 percent and 95 percent were false alarms.

City officials say these calls take away manpower and resources from actual emergencies.

Council is looking at passing legislation that would fine owners of properties that have repeated false alarms.

“The goal of this legislation is not to create revenue for the city, but to find a way to significantly reduce or eliminate false alarms in the city,” Councilman Vince Flask, the chairman of the police and fire committee, said.

Under the proposal as currently written, alarm systems must be registered with the city on an annual basis. Registration fees would be $25 for residential customers and $50 for commercial customers.

The registration fees are subject to be waived the subsequent year if there are no false alarms during that year.

Alarm companies also will be required to pay specific fees under the legislation.

North West Neighborhood Association President Bob Weitzel criticized the legislation as nothing but a money grab by the city.

“If you add up all of the fees that must be paid, the city could earn between $75,000 and $100,000 in the first year,” Weitzel said. “I do not know why the city is writing new legislation when it already has legislation that deals with false alarms. What needs to be done is to enforce the current legislation.”

Weitzel also questioned how the city would identify which calls are false alarms.

Police officer Geoff Fusco stated that false alarms are recorded when a police officer actually arrives at an alarm site and finds there was no reason for the call. If the alarm is canceled before police or firefighters arrive, it is not a false alarm.

Making every homeowner and business pay registration fees for their alarm system would be equivalent of providing a hidden tax, Weitzel said.

“It is not right,” he said.

Under the legislation, fines for false alarms begin on the third response from the police or fire department. The amount of the fine is based on the kind of calls and the number of calls at that location. Fines can range from $25 for the first fine on a burglar false alarm and $200 for each robbery or panic false alarm.

Councilman Eddie Colbert says he is vehemently against charging residents who have had no previous history of false alarms at the residences or businesses an initial registration fee.

Flask, the legislation’s sponsor, agreed it needs to be looked at to eliminate registration fees for those who previously have not had a record of false alarms.

“We know those who have records of multiple false alarms,” Colbert said. “They are the ones who should pay the initial registration fees because we can trace their history.”

“Other residents should not have to pay a fee for their initial registration,” he said.

Flask said the false alarm legislation currently on the books has never been enforced.

Police Chief Timothy Bowers said there will be a better chance this new legislation will be enforced, because there now are companies available to monitor the alarms and to do the billing.

In a teleconference presentation by Public Safety Corp., which manages false alarm calls for communities across the country, Terri Miller, a sales representative, noted the company can either provide the equipment for Warren to operate its own system or do all the monitoring and billing for it.

It is currently in about 250 cities across the country, including Columbus and Cincinnati.

“You can experience somewhere between a 30 percent to a 40 percent reduction in the number of false calls,” Miller said.

If Public Safety Corp. is selected as the contractor for the system, it would be paid through a percentage of the money collected from the false alarms.

Warren Doug Franklin said the legislation’s primary goal is to reduce the number of false alarms so the city can better utilize its safety forces.

“We are not going to hire more police officers, so if we can reduce the number of false alarm calls, they can be used for actual emergencies,” he said.

Police Chief Timothy Bowers said the proposal will make it safer for everyone, but the criminals.

“When officers know the majority of alarms are false alarms, we can have situations where their guards are down when they approach situations,” Bowers said. “That makes it dangerous.”

Bowers added there have been times when police officers have gone to places where there is a false alarm while an actual emergency was taking place on the other side of town.