Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Action on alarm rules delayed

The police department and city hopes to modernize fines for false alarm system calls.

The Renton Police Department and the city of Renton are looking to revamp an alarm system ordinance that will better reduce the number of false alarms received and create accountability for these false alarms.

The new system would fine alarm-users for false alarms where Renton police were called by an alarm system to a scene. The fines would vary from $100 to $250. Currently, it costs the city an average of around $100 to respond to alarms.

“Our main goal is to reduce the number of false alarms we respond to. Once you see the numbers, and if you do the math, that’s just a huge waste and drain on resources that we could be spending with time out with the community, being proactively engaged in trying to find criminal activity, stuff like that,” Renton police Cmdr. Dave Leibman said.

The ordinance was pulled from the final reading at the Aug. 20 Renton city council meeting after councilmember Armondo Pavone said they had conversations over the weekend about whether this ordinance was going in the right direction for the city.

“I just want to make sure we’re happy with what we accomplish,” Pavone said on Tuesday. “And I don’t know what that means yet. I’m not trying to get anywhere, I just want to revisit it.”

Pavone does believe the ordinance is heading in the right direction, but he wanted to take one more look at it and make sure it’s accomplishing what the city wants to accomplish — trying to cut back on the amount of police time and resources spent responding to false alarms.

In 2016, it cost Renton Police Department $357,235.79 to respond to alarm calls. On average it costs the city $350,000 a year in unproductive staff time.

Officers spend over 3,000 hours each year responding to alarm calls, averaging just a little under 30,000 hours a year for staff to process these calls. Two officers respond to each alarm.

“If we can even cut that in half, it will be beneficial to both the city and the residents,” Pavone said.

The number one 911 call is for false alarms, and around 96 percent of the calls to the police department are false, Pavone said at the Aug. 13 city council meeting.

False alarm fines:

First false alarm

No charge

Second false alarm

$100
Three or more $250
Eight false alarm $250 (permit revoked)

Other fines:

Permit fee $25
Permit renewal No charge
Late fee $25
Non-registration fee $50
Appeal hearing fee $25
Permit reinstatement $50

Leibman said alarm owners will have a whole new permit and alarm registration process they will need to complete. As the ordinance is currently written, it would be $25 dollars for the first year to register, and then free every year after as long as alarm users update their system information annually.

The ordinance would also allow for one grace false alarm per year, instead of the previous three grace alarms. The previous alarm reduction system was inoperable after 2016, but police were still responding to alarm tips in 2017 and 2018. But the calls weren’t being entered into a management program for tracking purposes, Community Program Coordinator Cyndie Parks said.

Pavone said over the weekend he read a couple articles and was wondering if the ordinance was fairly distributing the punitive effects of the code. He said the potential problem with the ordinance scenario is it’s not always the homeowners fault the false alarm went off. Pavone is an alarm system user and is sometimes frustrated with his monitoring company.

“These alarm companies make lots of money off of monitoring, insane amounts of money. And most of them aren’t in the city or even in the state,” Pavone said.

He said different cities have adopted different policies where they fine monitoring companies, residents or both.

Leibman said almost all cities in the region have false alarm ordinances and processes. Currently, they will be partnering with the same company that is being used by Auburn, Bellevue and dozens of other agencies across the US. He said this ordinance was also on the low end of the fine schedules.

Home and business owners can cause a false alarms by not securing doors properly so they blow open, not setting sensors properly and other preventable signs of negligence.

Leibman said this ordinance is specific to situations where the police found the alarm had gone off due to some form of negligence by the owner, and there will be no fine or permit system in place for systems that do not automatically summon police.

“Other systems where it may be a camera, somebody enters somebody’s home and the camera is triggered, then video goes live to home owner, and home owner calls us, we will respond immediately,” he said. “There’s never going to be a charge for that type of thing.”

Parks said when an alarm trip is dispatched to officers, it’s treated as a burglary-in-process, so it’s a priority call that when found to be a mistake, hinders officers from addressing more emergent calls around the city.

Business employees not having proper codes or accidentally setting off business-owned alarm systems is more common than people think, she said.

The next Public Safety Committee meeting hasn’t been announced yet, where they will discuss the tabled ordinance, but will likely be the third week of September.

Parks said there are some ways to avoid false alarms:

• Do routine maintenance on the alarm system and sensors.

• Make sure those with authorization to enter the house or business have the proper codes.

• If the alarm is triggered, punch in the proper code to cancel the alarm. You will only be charged if police arrive at the destination and confirm is was a false alarm.

• Consider possible circumstances that could set off motion sensors in your home, such as pets or balloons, in order to avoid them.

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