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Cost of false alarms rises

More than 1,500 false alarms each year strain deputy resources

Posted: April 23, 2009 9:03 p.m.
Updated: April 24, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 

If you have a false-alarm problem that summons deputies repeatedly, you’re about to have a new rising cost.

The fee is part of a new full-cost-recovery plan being rolled out as the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station and the city crack down on businesses in Santa Clarita contributing to the increased number of false-alarm responses. They’re cracking down, they say, because rolling to false alarms is overwhelming deputy resources.

“The reason for the diligent effort to reduce false alarms is to free-up the precious resources we have in our patrol force,” said Sgt. A.J. Rotella, of Santa Clarita Sheriff’s Business Alliance, on Thursday.  

At a Tuesday luncheon, Rotella told the Valley Industrial Association, a local business network, that the city will adopt a new cost-recovery model for false-alarm incidents effective July 1. That’s when everyone’s alarm-response slate will be wiped clean. The new fees will apply to both residential- and business-alarm owners. But  Rotella said the problem is mostly caused by businesses.

In 1997, the city council adopted a false-alarm ordinance to help reduce the number of false alarms received each year. However, the number of false alarms is not decreasing, Rotella said.

“The problem is, it not only taxes our resources, but it becomes a problem of the little boy that cries wolf,” Rotella said. “If (businesses) don’t get their alarm problems in order, it (answering the alarm) just becomes a lower and lower priority to the deputy at that location.”

The Sheriff’s Station responds to nearly 5,000 false alarms each year, according to information Rotella provided. Just 103 businesses — fewer than 20 percent of local businesses with alarm systems — cause more than 1,500 of the false alarms, he said.

The alarms require deputies to respond quickly, often to learn on arrival that the alarm was activated in error because of an apparent malfunction, Rotella said.

“The number of false-alarm responses takes almost four full-time deputies out of the field each day,” said Captain Anthony La Berge, of the Sheriff’s Station, in information provided by Rotella.

There has, for the past six years, been a fee for a false alarm, Rotella said. That fee now is $197.

The new full-cost-recovery model will charge a business $255 for its third false alarm in a calendar year. The fourth false alarm will cost $400 and for the fifth and beyond, $600. Allowing for the initial two freebies provides fairness for businesses that have one or two false alarms versus those that generate dozens of false alarms each year, according to Rotella.

“This is not an effort to raise money through alarm fees,” La Berge said. “Simply put, we need to get the attention of alarm owners who mismanage their alarms. The resources of our deputies who are responding to these errant alarms could be better spent protecting our Santa Clarita community and responding to priority calls for service.”

Kathy Norris, the industrial association’s executive director, said she was surprised to hear how many false alarms occur, but she appreciates the Sheriff’s Department trying to conserve resources for real emergencies.

“I do absolutely think it’s necessary,” Norris said. “The Sheriff’s Station is offering some resources and services to help people control those false alarms as well. If (businesses) take advantage of that, they’re not going to incur the charges.”

The Sheriff’s Business Alliance offers a “False Alarm Prevention” guide available at www.SCVSheriff.com/sba or at the Sheriff’s Station front counter. The guide offers tips and resources to help business managers and residents properly manage their alarm systems.

 

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