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The ordinance applies to alarm systems used to initiate a law enforcement response. These include intrusion or burglary alarms, robbery alarms, monitored alarm systems that call the police department when an alarm is activated, and local alarm systems that are not monitored. It does NOT include fire alarms, medical alarms, personal alarms, vehicle alarms and alerting doorbell cameras, unless those doorbell cameras are part of a security system that is designed to detect and alert unauthorized entry.
Based on the total number of law enforcement alarm calls in 2017 (4,966), Everett Police respond to approximately 13.6 alarm calls per day, slightly more than one every two hours. Dispatch data shows that response and on-scene time averages 12.5 minutes per call, with two officers usually present. Assuming an average of two officers per call, the department is expending 2,070 hours per year in call time for alarm calls - slightly less than the amount of hours one full-time officer works each year.
These calls are considered priority responses and take resources away from other calls. They also often involve code responses: patrol cars travelling at higher speeds creating greater risk of accidents and injuries.
A study conducted by the Urban Institute in 2012, of which the City of Seattle was a participant, reported that at least 90% of all police alarm calls were false alarms, and less than 2% of all the alarm calls police were dispatched to were related to criminal conduct. Those results match our experience in Everett. Our data shows that in 2017 the police department had 4,966 law enforcement alarms that year. Of those:
Of those 4,966 alarms in 2017:
No, we have a law enforcement alarm ordinance that was enacted in 1978. The ordinance requires alarm registration and fines for repeated false alarms, and the ordinance was enforced through 1991. In 1991, enforced was stopped because the new software system utilized through our regional dispatch center did not support management of alarm registration, alarm tracking, and alarm billing. Since then, alarm systems have become very common, but have a high incidence of false alarms, making it a critical time for us to reevaluate the existing ordinance and associated practices.
We believe that by adopting the recommendations of the National Burglar Fire and Alarm Association (NBFAA) and the False Alarm Reduction Association (FARA) we can maintain the positive aspects of law enforcement alarm systems while significantly reducing their negative impacts.
The Urban Institute reports that where their false alarm reduction strategies have been employed, police agencies report a 60% or greater reduction in the number of false alarms. That experience has been replicated locally with the City of Seattle false alarm program.
The proposed ordinance updates the existing law to reflect three false alarm reduction strategies.
Strategy 1: Mandating alarm companies to use Enhanced Call Verification. This requires the alarm company to make at least two phone calls to numbers on a contact list to verify the validity of the alarm before calling 911. This proposed ordinance mandates all alarm companies use that process for a standard intrusion alarm, which at 87% is the majority of the alarms received. It does not mandate that process for robbery or panic type alarms, of if an alarm company is monitoring by sound or video and can visually or audibly confirm a crime is occurring.
Strategy 2: Requiring registration/permitting for alarm systems, which is already part of our current ordinance. It is important that law enforcement know where alarm systems are in the city, who is responsible for them, and how to contact those responsible parties when needed. Along with permitting, the proposed ordinance institutes an annual fee for the alarm systems that would help account for the higher level of police protection and response provided to those with alarm systems, and help offset the costs of responding to and checking on those alarms when they occur, and help offset the cost of administering the permitting and false alarm review and billing processes.
The proposed fee scale for permits is as follows:
Permits will be valid for the year in which they were obtained. After June 30th of each year the cost for new permits are reduced by ½. Permit costs are not refundable, so a person that discontinues alarm use is not eligible for a refund for the remainder of the year.
Strategy 3: Creating penalties for repeated false alarms by assessing fines to alarm users for repeated false alarm responses. This is currently in the existing ordinance. The proposed ordinance updates this process and the penalties.
Officers are required to investigate any alarm response and to make a reasonable determination as to what caused the alarm and report whether it was a false alarm or a valid alarm. We would send monthly bills for documented false alarm responses. There is an opportunity to waive one false alarm fee every 12 months by taking an alarm awareness class which we anticipate offering online. The proposed ordinance has a system for alarm users to appeal charges first to a reviewing officer within the department, and then next to the city hearing examiner at the alarm users request.
Yakima, Burien, Bellingham, and Seattle all utilize “Verified Response.” Verified Response means that for any intrusion alarm, there must be actual physical proof of an alarm activation, typically by a third party confirming a valid alarm. These agencies do still respond to panic and robbery alarms. Seattle charges $10 each year for all permits and no discounts. Seattle still has false alarm fees at $230 for panic and robbery alarms and $115 for intrusion alarms. They also have a “first time waiver” for one alarm every 7 years with an alarm awareness class.
Tacoma has a flat rate of $40 annually for all types of alarms, no discounts, and a flat $100 fee for response to any type of false alarm. There are no waivers for “first time” alarms. The alarm company charges alarm users for all permit and false alarm fees, and passes those costs on to the alarm user through their monthly billing.
The ordinance proposal for Everett is somewhere in the middle, with the residential permit fee a little lower than Tacoma, and the business permit fee a little higher. We have proposed numerous discounts to those fees for senior citizens, disabled residents, and non-profit organizations.