In Rancho Cordova, alarm firms concerned about city ordinance change

Dec. 27--A proposed Rancho Cordova regulation change has set off the area's security-alarm companies.

The business owners say the measures intended to reduce Rancho Cordova police responses to false alarms could jeopardize proprietary information and expose their customers to identity theft.

Finance Director Donna Silva said the city adopted Sacramento County's alarm ordinance upon incorporation. When the county amended its ordinance in September and mistakenly sent out alarm permit renewal notices to Rancho Cordova residents and businesses, city staff members reviewed the changes and recommended adopting some of them to reduce city costs for false-alarm responses.

The city currently charges $50 for the original alarm permit as well as for fines on third and subsequent false alarms at a home or business.

Staff members recommended retaining the current fee and fine schedule and not imposing a $45 biennial permit renewal fee instituted by the county. But they did suggest following the county's lead in requiring alarm companies to make at least two calls to the location or responsible party before calling the Police Department about an activated alarm.

Silva said a county study determined that 98 percent of alarm calls in 2006 were false -- or processed and canceled before police arrived. The alarm program in Rancho Cordova cost the city approximately $215,000, but only $92,030, or 43 percent, was recovered through permit fees, surcharges and false alarm fines last year, she said.

Reducing the number of false-alarm responses would reduce the city's costs and spare alarm system owners a fine.

But proposed measures also call for alarm companies to file a report with the Police Department every two years providing the name, birth date, driver's license number, address and telephone number of each alarm system subscriber they serve, as well as the name, address and telephone number of an emergency contact person. The report also would include the number, type and location of alarm systems at each site.

Rick Jordan of Baker Burglar & Fire Systems Inc. took issue with requiring alarm companies to turn over client lists, and he questioned the need for personal information about permit holders, such as driver's license number and birth date.

"Basically, (the city) wants us to mail the application to them," Jordan said. "If personal information leaks out, who is liable for the leaks?"

Jordan said he also would like to know what types of situations were categorized as false alarms.

If a burglar fled upon opening the door and activating the alarm, that's not a false alarm. "That's the alarm doing its job," Jordan said.

Andy Anderson, owner of CPP Alarms and Video, said he has been in the industry since 1971 and serves on the board of the Sacramento Area Alarm Association. About 300 alarm companies operate in the Sacramento area, he said, and most are small operations, often with no more than two employees.

Each municipality has its own rules and regulations, making it difficult for small firms to keep track, he said.

Anderson said the industry doesn't object to the permit fees or fines, recognizing that someone has to bear the cost of false alarms.

But, he said, "If we lose five or 10 accounts because people won't give the (personal) information, we have a problem."

Police Chief Reuben Meeks said some of the information requested in the proposed ordinance reflected "old-school thinking."

With geographical information system data, the Police Department can identify homes and businesses by parcel number. "There's no need to collect the extremely sensitive data," he said.

As for ensuring that the city is able to collect fines for false alarms, Mayor Linda Budge suggested a process similar to that used to collect from people who fail to pay for garbage service.

"If you have a parcel number and it isn't paid, you lien the property," she said.

Silva said allowances would have to be made for cases in which the alarm system is owned by a tenant rather than the property owner.

Council members said they also appreciated alarm companies' concerns about turning over proprietary information.

"Not many industries would be willing to hand over their client base," Budge said.

The council continued the matter to March 5, directing staff members to work with industry representatives to craft an ordinance that addresses their concerns as well as the city's financial issues.

As for Rancho Cordova residents and businesses that responded to the county notice requesting payment of a $45 permit renewal fee, Silva said refunds would be mailed in two to three weeks.

Copyright (c) 2007, The Sacramento Bee, Calif. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.