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Wed, Nov. 20

Prescott Valley council mulls fines for repeat false alarms

Prescott Valley Police Interim Chief James Edelstein talks about how much false alarm calls cost the town.<br>
Tribune/Matt Hinshaw/File

Prescott Valley Police Interim Chief James Edelstein talks about how much false alarm calls cost the town.<br> Tribune/Matt Hinshaw/File

Ninety-nine and a half percent of alarms turn out to be false, and responding to them costs police departments "quite a bit of money," Interim Police Chief James Edelstein said.

Edelstein came up with a proposal for civil fines for businesses and homeowners that are repeat offenders, and presented it at a work/study session of the Town Council Thursday.

Edelstein is proposing revising the town code, which currently provides a criminal penalty of $8 after more than two false alarms in the same month. The fine increases to a maximum of $24 if incidents occur often enough during the same month.

The Police Department does not use the existing code because the prosecutor and judge find it difficult to assign criminal liability to someone who might not be responsible for the alarm, Edelstein stated in a report to the council.

Edelstein is calling for a civil fine and registration process for homeowners or businesses with false alarms, requiring the monitoring station (alarm companies) to make two phone calls before notifying police and enforcing the new code through a third-party vendor.

He stated alarm companies call police dispatch after an alarm goes off, the dispatcher assumes a burglary occurred and puts out a call for service. Two police officers roll out to the scene, and find no sign of forced entry.

A sign swinging in the breeze could have triggered an alarm, Edelstein said.

He estimated police here have responded to approximately 1,200 calls for burglary and robbery alarms each year over the past decade. Police spent 620 hours responding to false alarms in 2011.

Doing a math from a study that determined each false alarm costs $85 for officer response, Edelstein projected costs over a decade at $969,000. However, he told the council that costs in Prescott Valley likely would be much lower "because we do business for less money."

He said a major cause for false alarms is employees of businesses not being properly trained in deactivating alarms. Another cause is carelessness.

Edelstein said he talked to officials in the cities of Prescott, Flagstaff and Phoenix, and alarm companies.

The City of Prescott implemented a false-alarm ordinance July 1, 2011, that imposed fines for repeat offenders, the Courier reported. Under the ordinance, owners face fines in $100 increments after two false-alarm warnings.

The ordinance followed complaints from the Police Department about the costs of responding to false alarms. When the Police Department initially took the issue to the City Council in 2010, it reported that officers were responding to about 3,000 false alarms per year.

Edelstein told the Town Council, "I'm not looking to penalize anyone." He also recommends a six-month grace period before the fines go into effect.

Edelstein suggested requiring first-time violators to attend an online class, similar in concept to traffic school. Vendors could conduct the class.

Responding to a question from Councilman Michael Whiting, Edelstein said, "We are not going to stop responding to these calls."

Vice Mayor Lora Lee Nye commented, "I find myself very frustrated by this need."

She indicated that she backs Edelstein's proposal because it calls for responsibility and accountability.

Edelstein said he will need about a month to work on the proposal before bringing it to the council for a vote.

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