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An alarming charge: $700

Three false alarm calls in year may prove costly

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POSTED January 30, 2009 1:16 a.m.
You can – as the municipal law is now written – end up having the Manteca Police respond up to 24 times a year to false alarms at your business or home and not be charged a penny for tying up law enforcement services an average of 18 minutes per response.

The current ordinance allows you two false alarm responses per month without being charged. The third, fourth and fifth responses within a month to a false alarm could garner a $50 charge apiece. Police Chief Dave Bricker is now proposing that only two false alarms be allowed a year instead of per month.

And that could cost $700 for the third, fourth and fifth false alarms and revocation of the burglary alarm permit after that.

The third false alarm would result in a $100 charge, the fourth false alarm a $200 charge, and the fifth false alarm a $400 charge. After that, the police department would move to revoke the burglary alarm permit. If the alarm is used after the permit has been revoked, it would generate a $500 per alarm penalty.

Bricker is proposing that the new rules and charges go into effect May 15, 2009 if the City Council during their Tuesday meeting agrees to the proposal. The council meets at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St.

Other changes Bricker is pursuing include requiring installers and salespersons be licensed in accordance with state law, identify the duties and responsibilities of alarm installers and users, encourage alarm user registration with the police department, and educate the alarm users about the impact of false alarms.

The department also wants to charge for response to non-permitted alarms. There is no charge for not having an alarm permit today. Under the proposed changes, no alarm permit would result in a $200 charge. If the owner of the alarm fails to respond such as to a night-time or weekend commercial burglary, there will also be a $100 charge.

Manteca has 23,618 residential units. Of those, 5.6 percent or 1,312 homes have alarms.

Manteca Police responded to 3,527 residential burglaries last year of which 98.7 percent of the alarms were the result of mechanical failure or owner error and not due to criminal activity.

Each of those calls took an average of 18 minutes of time to respond to the residence, check the structure, and contact the owner or responsible individual. Due to the nature of the calls, two officers are dispatched resulting in 36 minutes of manpower tied up per call. That resulted in 2,116 hours of officer time to respond to false alarms in 2008.

The lost time responding to false calls is the equivalent to a full-time officer. Bricker estimated the cost to the city of more than $80,000 a year.

Bricker noted that responses to alarm company calls started as a courtesy but has now become an expectation on the part of the companies.

“Responding to audible alarms serves a private few, but yet is subsidized by all taxpayers,” Bricker noted in a report to the Manteca City Council.

The department is proposing switching to a verified response to residential alarms. That requires a human verification of a crime or a problem. The verification response does not apply to robbery, panic, or duress alarms. Manteca Police will continue to respond to those types of alarms regardless of verification. Bricker noted in other cities, response times by security agents are generally faster than the police department.

Bricker pointed to the results of a study by the City of Fontana that switched to a verified response policy. They had an 81 percent reduction in police response to residential burglary alarms with no increase in the burglary rate. At the same time, they had a 14.6 increase in vehicle stops and a 59 percent increase in pedestrian contacts resulting in a 12 percent increase in arrests.

Response times to the major crimes identified by the FBI from assaults, vehicle and other burglaries, domestic violence, car thefts, armed robberies, and such improved.

Bricker said response to hold-up alarms will not change. Police will respond to residential and commercial distress alarms after the alarm company has attempted to verify the alarm by calling the premises, and they will respond to local audible alarms only if criminal activity has been verified.

Police will respond to all commercial and residential alarms when criminal activity has been verified. Police will also respond to burglar alarms if there are two separate monitoring zones activated and if the alarm company’s monitoring station has been unsuccessful in their attempt to contact the premises.

Acceptable forms of verification are audio or video communication or a guard, witness, or alternate responder verification.

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