Prescott tweaks false-alarm ordinance

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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.