News

Atherton to begin billing residents for false alarms

Among Atherton's many unique characteristics is that it allows its 7,000 residents to connect their burglar alarms directly to the town's police station, which monitors the alarms at the cost of only the one-time initial connection fee of $61.

The police department also has the keys and gate codes for program participants, allowing quick responses when an alarm call comes in.

Police Chief Steve McCulley says he has no intention of dropping the program, which 80 percent of residences are signed up for, but he'd like to reduce the amount of time his officers spend responding to false alarms.

A report the chief prepared for the Jan. 17 City Council meeting says that from January 2016 to November 2017 the police department received 4,599 alarm calls -- all of them false. While the department was able to determine that about half the calls were false alarms without responding, checking out the others took up the equivalent of 13 months of one full-time police officer doing nothing but responding to false alarms, at an approximate cost of $136,000, he reported.

"It's very disruptive," he said. "I know we can do much better with our time."

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The chief said that in the past year, 350 residents had more than one false alarm call, with one resident racking up 18 such calls.

"It's becoming an increasing problem," he said.

Chief McCulley recommended that residents start paying a $50 annual alarm registration fee, have their alarms inspected annually, and face a $200 fine for all false alarms beyond the first each year.

"This is not revenue-generating for the police department in any way," he said. "It does create awareness."

Council members said they've heard from some residents who didn't see the proposal in quite the same way. "They see this as nickel-and-diming the residents, coming on the heels of the loss of the parcel tax," said council member Bill Widmer.

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He asked for an allowance of more than one false alarm call before the fines kick in, and said he does not support an annual inspection requirement.

One speaker said the inspection could cost close to $200 each year, which some residents might find difficult to pay.

Council member Mike Lempres said that the cost could be hard on some of Atherton's longtime residents. "There's an awful lot of people in town who aren't millionaires or billionaires," he said.

Mayor Cary Wiest said the fines could also have another negative impact on some elderly residents. His mother, he said, would simply not turn on her alarm if she thought she was bothering the police department.

"I would not like to see ... this impact our senior population," he said.

City Manager George Rodericks said he would bring back an ordinance that has a small annual fee, no inspection requirement and an escalating fine after the second or third false alarm call.

The new proposal will also include a process to waive the fines for older residents and the town will work to educate its residents about the impacts of false alarms, he said.

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Atherton to begin billing residents for false alarms

by Barbara Wood / Almanac

Uploaded: Tue, Jan 23, 2018, 8:16 am

Among Atherton's many unique characteristics is that it allows its 7,000 residents to connect their burglar alarms directly to the town's police station, which monitors the alarms at the cost of only the one-time initial connection fee of $61.

The police department also has the keys and gate codes for program participants, allowing quick responses when an alarm call comes in.

Police Chief Steve McCulley says he has no intention of dropping the program, which 80 percent of residences are signed up for, but he'd like to reduce the amount of time his officers spend responding to false alarms.

A report the chief prepared for the Jan. 17 City Council meeting says that from January 2016 to November 2017 the police department received 4,599 alarm calls -- all of them false. While the department was able to determine that about half the calls were false alarms without responding, checking out the others took up the equivalent of 13 months of one full-time police officer doing nothing but responding to false alarms, at an approximate cost of $136,000, he reported.

"It's very disruptive," he said. "I know we can do much better with our time."

The chief said that in the past year, 350 residents had more than one false alarm call, with one resident racking up 18 such calls.

"It's becoming an increasing problem," he said.

Chief McCulley recommended that residents start paying a $50 annual alarm registration fee, have their alarms inspected annually, and face a $200 fine for all false alarms beyond the first each year.

"This is not revenue-generating for the police department in any way," he said. "It does create awareness."

Council members said they've heard from some residents who didn't see the proposal in quite the same way. "They see this as nickel-and-diming the residents, coming on the heels of the loss of the parcel tax," said council member Bill Widmer.

He asked for an allowance of more than one false alarm call before the fines kick in, and said he does not support an annual inspection requirement.

One speaker said the inspection could cost close to $200 each year, which some residents might find difficult to pay.

Council member Mike Lempres said that the cost could be hard on some of Atherton's longtime residents. "There's an awful lot of people in town who aren't millionaires or billionaires," he said.

Mayor Cary Wiest said the fines could also have another negative impact on some elderly residents. His mother, he said, would simply not turn on her alarm if she thought she was bothering the police department.

"I would not like to see ... this impact our senior population," he said.

City Manager George Rodericks said he would bring back an ordinance that has a small annual fee, no inspection requirement and an escalating fine after the second or third false alarm call.

The new proposal will also include a process to waive the fines for older residents and the town will work to educate its residents about the impacts of false alarms, he said.

Comments

Mike
Atherton: other
on Jan 23, 2018 at 12:43 pm
Mike, Atherton: other
on Jan 23, 2018 at 12:43 pm

Any service that is free will be abused. Certainly some fee should be imposed, and the fine should escalate after the first couple of false alarms.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 23, 2018 at 12:44 pm
Peter Carpenter, Atherton: Lindenwood
Registered user
on Jan 23, 2018 at 12:44 pm

Long overdue to charge for this service!


Cut the crap
Atherton: other
on Jan 23, 2018 at 2:41 pm
Cut the crap, Atherton: other
on Jan 23, 2018 at 2:41 pm

Fines for multiple false alarms make logical sense. An annual fee does not. It’s an end run around the parcel total defeat. Yes, Peter Carpenter, most communities don’t provide free alarm monitoring. The logical flaw in your reasoning is find me another one that has its police department taking fully 75% of the budget. This maneuver will backfire on the police department.


Taxpayer
Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 23, 2018 at 3:13 pm
Taxpayer, Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 23, 2018 at 3:13 pm

Doesn't anyone remember that this business of "alarm system fees and fines" was tried by the town of Atherton some years back and created such a huge backlash that it was quickly abolished. Discouraging False alarms is fine, but limit that effort to those with above three and impose no other fees or fines.

The primary mission of our police department is to protect the citizens of Atherton who are the very ones who pay the taxes that provide police salaries and benefits. We all know the police department is by far the town's largest expense and now their new leader wants to bite the hands that feed them. Somebody better tell him which side his bread is buttered on.


Questions
Atherton: West of Alameda
on Jan 24, 2018 at 7:05 am
Questions, Atherton: West of Alameda
on Jan 24, 2018 at 7:05 am

There seems to be two separate services intertwined: monitoring and response.

Monitoring requires an investment in the device the alarm systems contact. What does the police department spend on this infrastructure? How much did it cost and how old is it? Is the installation up to snuff with insurance industry requirements? Does it provide the same level of service as other private sector providers? What percentage of alarm systems in Atherton connect directly to the department? How much does it cost to process an alarm, including one that is cancelled before the officers respond?

Response (going to the alarms) is provided for all systems, regardless of whether they are wired directly to the department. How much does it cost to respond to a routine alarm activation? How does the proposed fee compare to the actual cost? How much will it cost to track and bill for alarm responses?

Does the department wish to link monitoring and response? In other words, if the resident hasn't purchased a monitoring permit, will the response fee be higher?


Cut the crap
Atherton: other
on Jan 24, 2018 at 10:03 am
Cut the crap, Atherton: other
on Jan 24, 2018 at 10:03 am

Is the installation up to snuff with insurance industry requirements?

NO, it is not. For example, the APD does not support Internet-based alarm reporting, just telephone. Yet another reason not to be charging a monitoring fee.


current law
Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 24, 2018 at 11:22 am
current law, Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 24, 2018 at 11:22 am

I wonder if the Chief of Police, City Manager and Town Council have read the current Municipal Code 8.04.070 that I believe is in effect? Apparently, they need to propose different iteration of the current law. Why? It seems like the Chief, Town Manager and Council should do more homework on this as to why it does not work now why it is not enforced?
If my memory serves me correctly it is because the existing code was never enforced becuse it did not work. Maybe rather than propose a new one the old code should be enforced if nothing else because it is on the books.

8.04.070 False alarms.
A. Generally. In the event a false alarm is activated by any alarm system within the town, an invoice shall be issued by the police department. The invoice shall set forth the time and nature of the false alarm, the amount of the service charge, if any, applicable under subsection B of this section, and that the service charge is due and payable within fifteen days after mailing of the invoice. The invoice will be mailed to the record alarm owner by regular United States mail, postage prepaid, to the address at which the alarm is installed.

B. False Alarm Defined. An alarm signal activated intentionally or through inadvertence to which personnel of the police department respond, when there is no need for such response, shall constitute a false alarm for purposes of this chapter. If the alarm owner makes contact with the police department before responding units arrive at the location of the alarm, the owner will not be charged with a false alarm. A mechanical malfunction if verified by the alarm company, will not be charged as a false alarm.

C. Each alarm system shall be allowed one false alarm without service charge during each fiscal year from July first through June thirtieth. The alarm owner shall pay a service charge in an amount established by resolution of the city council for each subsequent false alarm during the fiscal year.

D. Suspension of Alarm System. The chief of police is authorized to suspend any alarm system for failure to comply with the regulations set forth in this chapter or for failure to maintain the system in good operating condition.

E. Reinstatement of Alarm System. The chief of police is authorized to reinstate any alarm system suspended under this chapter, upon payment of any outstanding service charges together with a reinstatement fee in an amount established by resolution of the city council.

F. Appeal. Any determination of a false alarm may be appealed by the alarm owner to the chief of police. Within five days of receipt of a written appeal, the chief of police or his authorized deputy shall set the time and place for the hearing of the appeal and give the appellant written notice thereof by regular United States mail, postage prepaid, to the address given in the appeal. The owner of the alarm system may appear at such hearing and testify if he or she desires. The decision of the chief of police on the appeal shall be final, and the alarm owner shall be notified of this decision by regular United States mail, postage prepaid.

G. Excessive False Alarms. In the event any alarm system within the town activates more than twelve false alarms within any one-year period, such alarm system shall be suspended and the owner thereof notified by regular United States mail, postage prepaid, sent to the address at which the alarm is installed. No alarm system may be activated while under suspension, and until reinstated by order of the chief of police and upon payment of any outstanding service charges together with a reinstatement fee in an amount established by resolution of the city council. (Ord. 527 § 1, 2001; Ord. 492 § 1(C), 1996: Ord. 432 § 2, 1987; Ord. 380, 1980; Ord. 354 (part), 1977: Ord. 328 § 7, 1974)


Clunge
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 25, 2018 at 11:12 pm
Clunge, Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 25, 2018 at 11:12 pm

That’s not an unusual request. When I worked in Palo Alto they would charge for false alarms — about $50 a pop in the early 90’s


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