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Publication Date: Friday, May 04, 2001

False alarm fees considered by council False alarm fees considered by council (May 04, 2001)

By Justin Scheck

Presented with the statistic that 99 percent of the burglar alarms sounded in the city are false, the Mountain View City Council is considering license fees and fines for alarm users.

At a study session following the April 24 city council meeting, Police Chief Mike Maehler told the council that the police respond to over 5,000 false alarms each year, an average of over 14 each day.

Maehler said the false alarms account for 5,100 hours of officer time expended each year, which is equivalent to the annual work-time of 2.5 full-time police officers. Furthermore, the proliferation of false alarms causes officers to not only be taken away from other duties, but also to develop a false sense of security when responding to alarm calls, Maehler said.

He said the fees would encourage alarm users to seek training on how to properly operate the devices, while allowing the city to recoup some of the costs incurred in responding to calls about false alarms.

The system proposed by Maehler would have alarm users register their systems with a license fee of about $25. A first false alarm would result in no fee; a second within 180 days would result in a $75 fee or a mandatory alarm operation class, to be conducted by the department.

But after the second offense, the user will have to pay $100 for the third, $200 for the fourth and up to $300 for the fifth and sixth offenses.

An issue of discussion at the study session was what to do when even these fees do not force an alarm user to fix a system. Maehler recommended cutting off police service to respond to such alarms; however, council members questioned whether this was an appropriate method of dealing with the problem.

While the council was only studying the issue, its discussions indicated that the members would not be opposed to such a measure.

"Having an alarm is a privilege, not a right," said Council member Mary Lou Zoglin. She said that false alarms take emergency services away from citizens who may actually need them.

Maehler said that most false alarms come from businesses, and are attributable to user error. Between April 1, 2000 and October 1, 2000, 41 Mountain View businesses had 10 or more false alarms, and eight businesses had over 20.

Council member Rosemary Stasek said she was "astounded" by these numbers.

"I think this program is exactly what we need," she said. Stasek said she did not envision many instances in which police would stop responding to a certain alarm because of the amount of police intervention that would precede such a measure.

Council member Ralph Faravelli spoke about giving lower alarm licensing fees to residents, an idea which City Attorney Mike Martello said could be legally justified by the greater risk and time involved in responding to a large business' alarm, as opposed to a resident's.


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