A false alarm from a home security system soon could do more than just wake up the neighbors. It also could result in a bill from City Hall.
Lawrence Police Chief Ron Olin told city commissioners on Thursday that his department would like to explore the possibility of charging people for residential false alarms that elicit a response from his department.
"We have a finite amount of resources, and false alarms certainly are a drain on those resources," Olin said.
Olin said his department responded to about 3,600 alarm calls per year. More than 90 percent of the calls are false. Each alarm call can take up to 40 minutes of staff time, depending on whether one or two patrol cars are sent to the scene.
The idea of a new fee didn't set off alarm bells for city commissioners, who heard the idea during the third day of hearings for the 2007 budget.
"If it makes people more attentive to their alarm systems, it would be worth considering," City Commissioner David Schauner said.
Olin didn't present specific details of how a fine system in Lawrence might work. But several area communities do charge fines for false alarms. In Manhattan, people are allowed to have three false alarms in a year without being charged a fine. But a fourth false alarm results in a $50 fine, a fifth is $100, a sixth is $150, a seventh is $200 and each subsequent false alarm is $250.
In Olathe, only one false alarm per year is allowed before a fine is issued. Fines range from $50 to a maximum of $500 per year. The city also requires all alarm owners to pay a $10 registration fee.
In Lawrence, Dave Rueschhoff, owner of a company that provides monitoring services for alarm companies, said he could see Lawrence residents agreeing to a one-time registration fee but balking at a fee for false alarms.
"When you bill people for a false alarm, they are already frustrated because they've had to deal with a false alarm set off by their kids or something, and now they receive a bill from the police department," Rueschhoff said. "A lot of people feel like they already are paying taxes for that service."
Creating a fee would require the city to do more than just pass a law. Olin told commissioners that the department would need an additional staff person to properly administer the program and perhaps a new computer software system.
The software program, which would help the department manage all of its records, would cost about $300,000. The staff person, who also would be responsible for tracking neighborhood noise complaints, would add about $31,000 to the department's budget.
The city in the 1980s passed an ordinance that allowed for the collection of both an annual fee and a $10 fine for false alarm calls. But the department stopped collecting the fees and fines in 1997 because it didn't have the personnel or computer technology to administer the program, Olin said.
Whether city commissioners will give the department the additional resources this year is an open question. Both the new position and the software system rank below the department's top-ranked request.
Olin told commissioners Thursday that his top budget request was for 10 new police cars that would give the department an adequate fleet to properly respond to major emergencies.
Olin said that during events such as the recent microburst, when additional police officers are called on duty, frequently there were more officers than police cars. He said that meant some officers were confined to the office when they could have been responding to calls.
The request for 10 new police cars would add about $500,000 to the department's budget.