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4:47 PM Fri, Dec. 14th

Prescott considers changing fees for false alarms

City unlikely to adopt ‘verified alarm response’

Mandatory free registration and an accelerated false-alarm fine schedule could be in store for users of security alarms in Prescott.

Still, the city’s changes likely will not go as far as the “verified alarm response” that the Town of Prescott Valley imposed starting Jan. 1.

While a final decision on a change in the way the Prescott Police Department handles false alarm calls is still to come, Prescott City Council members appeared to support the suggested changes this week.

Prescott Police Chief Debora Black told the council on Tuesday, Jan. 9, that the changes are being recommended to help reduce the number of false alarms in the city.

During 2017, the police department responded to about 2,200 false alarms – amounting to 99.8 percent of the alarm calls to which the department responded, Black said.

Three crimes were discovered from alarm calls during the past year, she added.

Although the city has had an ordinance for years that aims to curb false alarms, the number of false calls has shown a gradual rise in recent years – up from 2,114 in 2016, and from 2,058 in 2015.

Proposed changes

Currently, the city ordinance requires alarm users to register with the police department only after the first false alarm.

While about 2,700 alarms are currently registered, Black said the information has not been consistently updated.

The ordinance changes that she recommended this week would require that alarm users register their device, for free, with the police department at the time of installation, and that they update the information as needed.

“Upon installation of an alarm system,” alarm users must “complete an ‘alarm user registration’ either online or in person at the police department,” the proposed ordinance states.

It adds that the alarm users must “update when applicable through the police department’s online portal, responsible person contact information about the alarm system and any hazards to personnel located on premise.”

Along with the required registration, the police department is suggesting changes in the structure for fines. Currently, alarm users receive a warning on the second offense, and a $100 fine on the third, with the amount growing by $100 for each continuing offense.

Under the change, the alarm users would face a $100 fine on the second offense – a penalty that could be waived by taking an online course on alarm use.

At the same time, the police department also is suggesting that alarm users have an opportunity to appeal the fines over issues they can’t control (such as a power failure) sooner in the process.

Council support

Several council members voiced support for the changes.

Councilman Jim Lamerson, for instance, pointed out that the time spent responding to false alarms creates a burden for the police department.

“Twenty-two hundred false alarms in the course of a year is a lot,” Lamerson said. “There is not only a challenge in manpower, but there’s a cost.”

Councilman Phil Goode also brought up the cost to the community, maintaining that the “taxpayers in general are subsidizing” the alarm users who require police response for false alarms.

With the new ordinance, Goode said, “In essence, you’re creating a user fee, which I think is appropriate.”

In response to questions from the council on who the major offenders are, Black said businesses with frequent employee turnover are often offenders because of training issues.

In addition, she said, the false alarms often occur at retail businesses, fast-food businesses, and office buildings.

No verified response

Black pointed out that the police department looked into a system of verified response – which would require verification by witnesses or remote audio-video that a crime is going on before the police would respond – but decided not to recommend it.

The main concern, she said, is that alarm users would end up going to the scene themselves, which could present a danger.

“We presented it as an option,” Black said, noting that the council appeared to lean against a verified-response program during a November discussion.

She pointed out that the Town of Prescott Valley opted to impose verified response, effective Jan. 1.

“We can always go to that,” Black told the council, but she suggested that the city monitor the results of the recommended changes, as well as the results in Prescott Valley, before making that move.

The ordinance change is expected to be back on the council agenda for a vote on Jan. 23.