Originally Published: September 1, 2010 10:08 p.m.
The members of the Prescott City Council agree that responding to false security alarms is a drain on the police department.
How to solve the problem and hold repeat offenders financially responsible has the council divided.
Despite a lengthy discussion Tuesday afternoon, the council reached no decision and tabled a proposed alarm ordinance for two weeks.
Prescott Police Department Lt. Andy Reinhardt presented the council with an ordinance that would fine residents and business owners $100 for the third false alarm. The fees would increase $100 for each additional false alarm.
The proposed ordinance included a $15 registration fee for all security alarm owners.
The council had no problem with fining alarm owners for repeated false alarms. The proposed registration fee caused concern for some members.
Councilman Jim Lamerson went so far as to call it "just another type of tax."
Councilman John Hanna has no problem with the registration fee.
"I don't see it as a tax. If people want an alarm, they can pay for police response," Hanna noted.
Lamerson opposed the registration fee "on principle. It is not the money. You are asking everyone to pay for those who cannot take care of their alarms. Why should people have to pay (to register) their alarm if they are not doing anything wrong?"
Councilwoman Tammy Linn prefers the city fine repeat alarm offenders. While she supported the required alarm registration, she said she would prefer there not be a fee involved in the registration.
An alarm registration would require owners and alarm companies to provide accurate information about who to contact in case of an alarm.
Police officials said that in addition to time spent responding to false alarms, officers sometimes spend hours trying to determine the correct person to contact.
Instead of a registration, the council asked City Attorney Gary Kidd if the city could require alarm companies to supply a list of their customers.
Kidd indicated the city could request a list of customers.
Councilman Steve Blair sees the alarm problem as a "fiscal situation. Not knowing who to call to secure the building is a drain on resources."
Maria Malice from C.O.P.S. Monitoring has worked with the police department on the ordinance. She noted that for some cities the registration fees and fines are "moneymakers."
One possible solution, Malice suggested, would be a one-time registration fee with the fees waived the second year for owners with no false alarm violations (three or more false alarms).
Malice's comment about the fees being a moneymaker gave Mayor Marlin Kuykendall "heartburn. I would hope the ordinance would be revenue-neutral."
Police Chief Michael Kabbel said the idea of an alarm ordinance "is new to us. Looking at other ordinances, we would anticipate reducing false alarm calls 40 to 60 percent. We don't want this to be a moneymaker. What we want is to get the officers back on the streets."
Kabbel told the council that the department could reevaluate the fee after one year and reduce or eliminate it as necessary.
Despite the council's division, Councilwoman Mary Ann Suttles suggested a one-year trial period.
"We need to get something started," she said.
Reinhardt reported that in the past year police officers responded to 2,940 false alarms, costing the city $71,741 in lost wages. He said false alarms pull officers away from other calls.
"We responded to 2,000 false alarms where we could have imposed fees," Reinhardt noted.
The estimated first-year cost of the alarm ordinance is $34,000, including a half-time employee, records management system and operation costs.
At Kuykendall's suggestion, the council tabled approval of the false alarm ordinance for two weeks. Council members Suttles, Lamerson and Blair will work with the police officials to revise the ordinance.