Archive for Friday, May 19, 2006

False alarms may be fined

Police hope to cut time spent on calls

May 19, 2006


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.


staff04 12 years ago

I think the Manhattan program sounds reasonable. You don't want it to be SO costly that it completely discourages people from purchasing or using security systems, but you also can't have people totally wasting department resources either...

Angel Gillaspie 12 years ago

Okay, I have an alarm, and it sometimes gets set off by accident. How can the LPD claim it takes 40 minutes to take care of? They show up at the house, the owner is there or calls the alarm company to give the password, the officer is informed it's a false alarm, and leaves. How can that take 40 minutes? Unless he is adding the response time to that, I find it hard to believe that it takes that much time to clear a false alarm. The police chief says they need 10 more cars because "frequently there are more officers than police cars" - can't they fit more than one to a car? It would seem that police cars could hold 4 officers each in the case of an emergency. And if someone is put on staff to handle these false alarms and noise complaints for $31,000 a year, I want THAT job...

Angel Gillaspie 12 years ago

Oh, and one more thing - 10 cars for $500,000? Do the math - that's $50,000 a car, which seems pretty high, especially if that is an annual expense. Don't they have a paddy wagon they can use in emergencies?

Fatty_McButterpants 12 years ago

agilla: police cars are specially equipped vehicles that require equipment to be installed after it has left the factory. You have to pay for that equipment, as well as for the labor to install it. Heck, light bars are a couple of thousand dollars a pop!

As for the 40-minute timeframe - include 5-10 minute response time, 10-15 minutes at the scene, 10 minutes to write a brief report and there you go.

kujeeper 12 years ago

Quit wasting money on keeping the homeless in the city and then everyone won't want an alarm to keep the homeless from breaking in their homes.

hipper_than_hip 12 years ago

How about charging people who accidently dial 911?

OldEnuf2BYurDad 12 years ago

It seems like this is a good idea. The cops will be freed up to address actual crime, and the city makes some dough on Mr. Whatsmypasswordagain.

Dan Edwards 12 years ago

agilla - I think you're forgetting the very common scenario of a false alarm occurring when no one is home. The officer(s) must take the time to survey the entire property and wait a specific amount of time to meet the property owner (I think it's 20 minutes).

Yes, false alarms can happen, but they should not happen regularly. In fact, if you have a properly functioning alarm system and appropriate contact numbers, you should be able to give your password before the police are ever dispatched.

I say this as someone who has an alarm: I think it's perfectly reasonable for the city to charge residents with more than one or two false alarms in a year. It will help cut down on abuse of the police's time and encourage people to be more careful with their alarm systems.

KSChick1 12 years ago

I have an alarm and the police are only called if the alarm company cannot reach me to have me clear the alarm. I wouldn't mind having one free false alarm a year and then maybe be charged for more. But my tune would be different if I had false alarms all the time and was charged for them...

Christine Pennewell Davis 12 years ago

KUjeeper it is not the homless you need worry about, try looking at the kid in the house down the street or the transplant form topeka or kc.

pundit 12 years ago

$300,000 for the computer system? OUTRAGEOUS!

By the way, ever tried to get crime statistics from this department?? You can't. Yet they already have full time people and computers responsible for such.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 12 years ago

Yeah, take away druggies and teen truants and we will have no crime in Lawrence. Bored teenagers, regardless of social status, are a problem. Unless you live close to the drop in center, you are not having homeless problems.

Godot 12 years ago

"The software program, which would help the department manage all of its records, would cost about $300,000. "

The operating phrase here is "would help the department manage all of its records..."

Olin wants a new records management system, and an extra person to track noise complaints, but doesn't think he can make a convincing argument for that, so he comes up with the "false alarm" excuse. Everyone hates to see government resources wasted, right? So they will gladly spend $300,000 to prevent that?

Nice try. Doesn't fly.

Linda Endicott 12 years ago

And what about all those false alarms at homes and businesses caused by the electricity suddenly going out, something a homeowner has no control over? Are those going to be overlooked? They should be.

If you have to go through a metal detector at the courthouse, even if you're just there to submit your form for jury duty, and the metal detector goes off and it's only because of your car keys, can you charge them for a false alarm?

OldEnuf2BYurDad 12 years ago

I THINK that the difference between the metal detector example and a home alarm MAY be related to the fact that when the home alarm goes off, a cop has to speed to the scene and waste 40 minutes of crime fighting/speeding ticket giving/doughnut eating time for nothing.

eotw33 12 years ago

maybe they would respond faster if they didn't sit on top of the sallie may parking lot all day. i've had cops show up at my work at least 4 times this year saying an alarm was going if and 3 of the times they told me it was from an address that didn't even exist.

law 12 years ago

eotw33. Being and ex-officer and current Lawyer you need to understand that these officers take anywhere from 5-7 reports a day, each report takes at least 30 minutes minimum to write. They write reports in their cars so they can be on the street ready to respond. So unless you would rather the officers not be out on the street when they write their reports don't complain about them setting in a parking lot. Their job is filled with more stress and bad stuff than most care to see.

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