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Sun, Aug. 18

False alarm fines pile up for charter school

PRESCOTT - Over the course of about a month this past summer, local charter school Kestrel High racked up more than $1,000 in fines from the new security-alarm ordinance that the City of Prescott had just enacted.

The school's board President John Baudek appeared before the Prescott City Council Tuesday to protest those fines and to suggest that the city impose a more moderate false-alarm ordinance.

"The result is that we now owe you $1,000," Baudek told the council. "To me, that is extreme."

He explained that the school encountered problems with its alarm system early on, but later paid several hundred dollars to get it repaired.

"I'm not saying that we're totally not liable for this," Baudek said. "We are, but we got on it (to fix the problem)."

According to numbers from the Prescott Police Department, Kestrel's fines were just four of several dozen that have been issued since the new ordinance went into effect on July 1.

Police Lt. Andy Reinhardt reported Wednesday that 58 locations have had three or more false alarms, triggering the ordinance's fines.

Under the ordinance, alarm owners get two false-alarm warnings before the fines go into effect.

In Kestrel's case, Reinhardt said the police responded to four false alarms in a single day, at 1 p.m., 2:10 p.m., 2:35 p.m., and 3:35 p.m. on July 8.

The first two were warnings, and Chief Mike Kabbel later exempted a third because of the high wind gusts that day. The fourth triggered Kestrel's first fine, Reinhardt said. The school later had three more false alarms in July and August.

The ordinance requires that fines increase by increments of $100 for each repeated offense after the two warnings - resulting in a total of $1,000 for Kestrel.

Reinhardt said several other locations have posted even more false alarms. One business has had 10 false alarms since the new ordinance, while another has had seven. About 20 locations have had four or more.

Kestrel has appealed all of its fines to Kabbel, Reinhardt said, but except for the first exemption, those appeals have been unsuccessful.

"The city code is the city code," Reinhardt said of the department's enforcement.

On Tuesday, Mayor Marlin Kuykendall pointed out that the ordinance did not include an appeal process with the City Council. Therefore, he told Baudek, "We would be in violation of the ordinance if we even talked about this."

Rather, Kuykendall referred the matter back to the police department. "Let's see if we can find a way through this," he said.

Reinhardt said the police department plans to update the council on the progress of the ordinance after a year of implementation. He said that update would take place after July 1, 2012.

While the new ordinance has not eliminated all false alarms, Reinhardt said it appears to be serving as a deterrent for repeat offenders.

So far, the police department has responded to 931 false alarms since the implementation of the ordinance, Reinhardt said. During the same time period in 2010, he said, the number of false alarms totaled 1,088.

"There has been a 13 to 14 percent decrease since the false alarms ordinance went into effect," Reinhardt said.

Currently, he said, the ordinance calls for the city to send unpaid fines to collections.

While Baudek suggested that Kestrel should be exempt from the fines under the ordinance's exception for governmental agencies, the city attorney's office has determined that the school does not qualify as a governmental agency.

The city imposed the alarm ordinance in an effort to reduce the time the police department spends responding to false alarms. Police earlier reported that it responded to as many as 3,000 false alarms a year.

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