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9:24 PM Tue, Nov. 13th

Adjustments could be in store for Prescott's proposed security alarm registration ordinance

PRESCOTT – Coming just two weeks after city approval of a new business license program, the proposal for a mandatory security-alarm registration raised some concerns among Prescott City Council members this week.

While no vote took place during the Tuesday, May 17, study session, the council appeared to lean toward making adjustments that would simplify the ordinance and would take the business license process into account.

Deputy Police Chief Amy Bonney led off the discussion by telling the council that a mandatory registration would improve safety for the police officers who respond to security-alarm calls. Currently, she said, “It really compromises our staff safety, because we don’t know the type of calls we’re going to.”

In 2011, the council implemented an ordinance that penalized owners for false alarms. While the first false alarm elicits a warning, the second instance comes with a $100 fine, Bonney said. Over the years, the alarm ordinance has resulted in a significant drop in false-alarm calls – from 2,524 in 2011 to 1,089 in 2015.

Still, Bonney pointed out that recent city budget adjustments had led to a cut in the administrator position for the false alarm program, leaving other officers to deal with the program.

Registration would make tracking the program more efficient, Bonney said, noting that the department had received seven returned bills for fines just that day, “because we didn’t have an accurate address.”

As proposed by the police department, the ordinance would require annual registration of security alarms, with a $10 fee.

Councilman Steve Blair pointed out that two officers must respond to each alarm call. If the calls are false alarms, he said, they take up time that officers could be spending on other matters. “They are tied up, probably for the better part of an hour, maybe two hours,” he said of the officers responding to the false-alarm calls.

Susan Brenton, executive director of the Arizona Alarm Association, added her support for the ordinance, noting that enhanced verification of security alarms has helped other communities to reduce false-alarm calls by 25 to 70 percent.

But several council members questioned the need for another registration, on top of the business-license program.

“I have no problem with the fining for false alarms,” Councilman Greg Lazzell said. But, he said, the new business-license program already will be cataloging businesses.

And Councilman Jim Lamerson maintained that owners of local businesses and homes have an “inalienable” right to protect their property. Noting that he had also opposed the original false-alarm ordinance, Lamerson called the proposed registration requirement an “over-reach of government to try to stick its nose into private property rights.”

Other council members recommended that the police department should simplify or “streamline” the ordinance to make it more effective.

Mayor Harry Oberg suggested that the new business-license registration, which will become effective later this year, could include a question about whether a security alarm is on the premises. That way, he said, businesses would not be required to register and pay a fee twice.

Oberg asked Bonney to incorporate the council’s suggestions into the ordinance before taking the matter back to the council for a vote. After the meeting, the mayor estimated that the ordinance would be back before the council by late-June.