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Council to consider alarm ordinance

Mon., Nov. 28, 2005

Accidentally tripping your home or business alarm in Spokane soon could cost you.

The Spokane Police Department wants to impose new fees for dispatching officers to false alarms, which officials say number about 7,000 annually and could generate as much as $400,000 from fines and fees next year.

Under the plan, set for City Council consideration tonight, homeowners would pay $75 for each false alarm; business owners would pay $150. Homeowners with burglar alarm systems also would have to pay an annual $25 reg- istration fee, while business owners would pay $35.

Police say private alarms have become a burden on the department, particularly since “97 to 98 percent of them are false,” said Lt. Glen Winkey. “It’s like chasing our tails.”

Police Chief Roger Bragdon said he wants to avoid banning emergency responses to burglar alarms, as some larger cities have already done. But he said something has to be done because officers are being asked to respond to false alarms when they could be responding to potentially life-threatening situations.

“The purpose of the ordinance is to reduce false alarms,” Bragdon said earlier this fall. “I can’t have resources wasted.”

The proposed ordinance is based on one adopted by Olympia, which has about a quarter of the population of Spokane and had been averaging about 3,100 false alarms a year.

Dick Machlan, administrative services manager for the Olympia Police Department, said the city had worked for two years on its false-alarm ordinance, which took effect July 1.

“We don’t have tons of data. But it appears that we have done some pretty good inroads in cutting down false alarms,” Machlan said. “Earlier this year we were averaging about 200 a month. And now we are down to about 75, which is a pretty dramatic drop if it holds.”

Before the fines and fees were implemented, Olympia officers left fliers on the doors of businesses to inform the owner that police response could soon generate a fine, Machlan said.

“We were projecting this first year we would collect about $75,000 in false alarm fees. We overestimated that substantially,” Machlan said.

Olympia’s city manager reviews the ordinance every year to set the fees in accordance with the cost to respond.

“We felt it could have a huge impact on false alarms. If it does, great,” Machlan said. “But you don’t want to hire an officer based on income from false alarms.”

Budget writers in Spokane have already estimated $400,000 from fine and fee collection in the Police Department’s budget, said Tim Dunivant, who works in the city finance department.

The city will contract with an outside agency to collect the fees. The agency will be paid from fee and fine collections.

“There is no new staff or costs to the city of Spokane,” Winkey said.

Winkey estimated the city has about 6,000 alarm systems, which would all be subject to the registration fee. Public schools would be exempt from registering. All other homeowners and business owners would have to pay the registration fee and register each year.The ordinance would also allow the city to suspend a home or business’s alarm registration for 90 days or the remainder of the calendar year, whichever is longer, following three or more false responses in a year.

According to the ordinance, responding officers will determine whether a call is caused by a crime, by mistake, or by some other source, such as an earthquake or weather event.

Machlan said some residents initially balked at the fees and fines in Olympia.

“There were some folks who really felt this needed to be a basic police service,” he said. “But when we were talking about the need and the kind of money it cost pursuing false alarms, I think most people were amazed and shocked about how big the problem was.”


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