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Thu, Dec. 05

False alarm fines raise security questions

PRESCOTT - While the city's security alarm ordinance continues to result in fewer false alarms, it also could be sending the wrong message to alarm owners, say Prescott City Council members.

Councilman Steve Blair took the issue to the full council this week because he said he has heard a number of complaints from business owners.

Facing the threat of city fees for false alarms, Blair said, some owners are simply opting out of security alarms.

"All of a sudden, people are afraid to turn their alarms on, because they are afraid it's going to go off," Blair said. "That's the wrong message."

Suzanne Springer of Prescott's True Value Hardware store told the council on Tuesday that she has resorted to checking out late-night alarms herself rather than risk another city false-alarm fee.

"We're up to $900 in city fines," Springer told the council. "My problem is the internal motion sensor."

Blair said he has heard from other owners as well, who said insects or small animals might trigger the alarm.

Even so, Councilman Charlie Arnold noted that false alarms are occupying police officers when they could be devoting their time to other city issues.

"We're sending two officers when the alarm does go off," Arnold said.

Indeed, that was the impetus for the city's implementation of the false-alarm ordinance on July 1, 2011.

In an effort to reduce the amount of time Prescott Police officers were spending responding to alarms caused by faulty systems and user error, the City Council approved an ordinance that imposed fines for repeat false-alarm offenders. Under the ordinance, owners face fines in $100 increments 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.

The result: Officers were spending hundreds of hours a year responding to the alarms, only to find that most were not emergencies.

Deputy Police Chief Andy Reinhardt told the council this week that false alarms are "in the 98 percentile" of total alarms to which officers respond.

In October 2012, former Police Chief Mike Kabbel reported to the council that the alarm ordinance had dramatically reduced the number of false alarms - from 2,524 in fiscal year 2011 to 1,807 in fiscal year 2012.

Prescott Police Lt. Tim Fletcher said Wednesday that the number of false alarms has remained lower in the past five months or so.

"What we're seeing is owners are taking more responsibility and ownership for their alarms," Fletcher said, adding that the number of "habitual violators" has gone down substantially.

Alarm Coordinator Tommi Dow told the council on Tuesday that the city offers an appeal process to owners who feel that they are being unfairly charged for false alarms.

In addition, Dow said, "We have a pamphlet that gives suggestions (for dealing with false alarms)." The pamphlet is available online on the city's website at www.cityofprescott.net/services/police.

The council agreed Tuesday that officials should try to work out any issues with the alarm ordinance.

Meanwhile, Fletcher said the legal department has drafted some proposed changes that would help to clarify the alarm ordinance. He said those changes would require City Council approval.

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