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Alarm with no permit is costly

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POSTED March 11, 2015 1:00 a.m.

That alarm system you are paying $25 plus a month plus to have in place may be totally worthless unless you have registered it with the Manteca Police Department.

And it can actually cost you $200 if it goes off and police respond and you haven’t obtained a free city alarm permit.

A high number of false alarms where officers responded but had no contacts on file to help determine whether the house or business was secure prompted Manteca six years ago to put in place a policy requiring all burglar alarms to have city permits.

The permit costs nothing. It requires the name of the homeowner and contacts for two other individuals who have keys and can respond within 20 minutes after they are contacted by police.

Failure to obtain the permit can be costly, though.

During a 13-month period ending Feb. 7, Manteca has issued fines totaling $176,000 for alarm violations. A sizable sum are for alarms without permits, repeat offenders who fail to get a permit after the first time police respond or that don’t renew it on an annual basis with updated information as required by city ordinance.

“The goal isn’t to fine people but to get them to comply so police officers can be more effective,” noted Police Chief Nick Obligacion.

To that end, Manteca is switching to a system where all burglar alarm permits are renewed on Jan. 1 with a 30-day grace period.

“When we issue new permits it will only be until Dec. 31 no matter what time of the year so they can all renew on time,” said Obligacion. “That way everyone has the same time each year to renew permits much like changing smoke alarm batteries just during time changes.”

All existing permits will come due on Jan. 1, 2016.

 Obligacion noted 97 percent of the alarms police respond to are false. Typically they are triggered by a malfunction, faulty equipment, or something tripping the sensors such as a family pet, cleaning crews, store banners, and even spiders

Manteca adopted the permit policy in 2009. In the prior year, there were 3,587 residential burglar alarms activated of which 98.7 percent were mechanical failure or owner error with no criminal activity.

The loss in police manpower tied up in responding to false alarms was pegged at $80,000 in 2009. Police noted at the time they often did not have contact information when they responded to provide access or the ability to call someone to secure the alarm. 

A study in 2009 noted each alarm response took an average of 18 minutes to respond, check the structure and contact the owner. Due to the nature of the calls it requires two officers. Manteca Police devoted 2,116 hours last year responding to false alarms in 2009. The hours have since declined slightly since the ordinance as put into effect.

Manteca’s policy, however, isn’t quite as strict as it is in other places. 

A number of cities require additional steps to justify a legitimate alarm response such as an eyewitness account by either a private security firm or a neighbor or an internal video feed that shows a crime in progress before the San Jose Police Department will even respond to a residential burglary alarm. 

Panic, robbery, medical and duress alarms are excluded from Manteca’s policy.

Many jurisdictions besides Manteca have instituted similar polices. In every case it is the direct result of false alarms tying up limited police resources made even more critical during budget challenges.

Prior to July 1, 2009 the city allowed two false alarm responses a month without charging. The third, fourth, and fifth call each month resulted in a $50 charge each. There previously was no charge for not having an alarm permit or for the owner failing to respond. The ordinance that is now in effect charges $200 for no alarm permit and $100 if the owner fails to respond.

Current city policy allows for two false alarms a year and not two a month as was allowed prior to July 1, 2009. There is not a charge for the first two responses. The third false response is $100, the fourth response is $200, and the fifth is $400.

The contract for alarm service is between the alarm company and the alarm owner and is not binding on the city.

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