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Prevalence of false alarm calls remains high

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The number of unwarranted alarm calls has declined but remains high following the passage of a Jefferson County ordinance which aims to prevent the number of false alarms. 

From Jan. 1 to Nov. 14, sheriff’s deputies responded to 300 false alarms, down from 336 during that same period in 2017, Undersheriff Art Frank said.

For further comparison, the number of alarms during that same period in 2016 was 299 with another 351 in 2015.

Frank said he isn’t sure if the smaller number of false alarms this year is due to the new ordinance.

“I don’t know if the decrease in false alarms is due to the ordinance or just a normal down cycle,” he said. “I think the amount of time since the ordinance passed is too short to evaluate the success of the alarm permit process. It is my hope that, after more time, the amount will be substantially less.”

A false alarm is a signal, transmission or other communication to the sheriff’s department, whether intentional or not, that one could reasonably expect would prompt emergency dispatch to send a deputy when there is no need for such service.

 

Waste of resources

Responding to false alarms wastes the time of on-duty deputies that could better be used responding to crimes and emergencies in progress, Frank said. 

“Responding to false alarms is a distraction for law enforcement and takes patrol staff away from other duties,” he said. “There is also a cost related to the response that is measured in wear and tear on a patrol vehicle. As an extreme example: a deputy responds from the north county to Brinnon on a false alarm. The round trip is 70 miles. If the cost is 50 cents a mile to operate a patrol car, that’s $35 wasted to operate the vehicle. This is for a single deputy. A backup officer is preferred in each alarm.”

The number of citations issued to date since the ordinance took effect April 1 after a grace period was not available from the Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office before press time Nov. 20.

The cause of the false alarms can be from defective alarm systems or human error, Sheriff Dave Stanko has said.

 

The ordinance

The ordinance the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners passed requires all automatic and semiautomatic alarm systems be registered with the sheriff’s office.

That includes businesses and residences with panic, fire or intruder alarms that call in a request, or would possibly result in someone calling in a request for emergency services to respond.

By contrast, a normal household smoke detector that is not monitored by an alarm company would not, in most cases, require registration.

The sheriff’s office began taking registrations in January with a fee of $20 each. Renewals are required every two years.

The goal of registering alarm systems is to ensure responders have up-to-date information about alarm-equipped locations in order to assist in tracking false alarms.

Stanko said those responsible for such alarm systems would be required to inform the sheriff of the causes of any false alarms.

They also could be required to take action to prevent further false alarms, whether by repairing faulty sensors or adjusting those systems to accommodate for pets in the home.

The first false alarm in a six-month period would result in a warning letter.

There would be a potential for fines on a scale for successive false alarms within those six months.

Fines range from $50 to more than $200 for chronic offenders.

Non-registered alarms also would incur fines.

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