California town cracks down on false alarms

The Los Banos police and fire departments have been given permission to fine home and business owners whose security systems produce chronic false alarms.

The new law requires alarm system owners to register the devices with the police every two years and pay an escalating fine for each false alarm police respond to after the third such incident. There is a fee of $25 the first time the alarm is registered.

Police Chief Chris Gallagher introduced the ordinance to the City Council last month. Wednesday he came back to the group with a list of fine amounts.

People with more than three false alarms within a year will pay $25 when they re-register their alarm. The fine for the fourth and fifth false alarm report responded to by emergency services personnel will be $63 per occurrence. The sixth and seventh incidents will draw $125 fines and any false alarms that occurs after that will mean a $250 penalty.

Wednesday Councilman Tom Faria was the only local politician to vote against the new ordinance. He objected to the $25 fee.

"I disagree with charging a registration fee for an alarm," Faria said. "I don't want to see anyone discouraged from getting an alarm."

Gallagher said the registration is necessary because of the need for the city's emergency services personnel to have the most current information on the alarm systems in the town. He said the fee is needed to cover mailings to let the public no about the ordinance and staff time spent registering the alarms.

"There's quite a bit of effort I'm not trying to charge them to get money. I'm trying to recover some of the cost," Gallagher said.

Gallagher also emphasized that residents who have more than three false alarms within a year's time are the only people who who pay an addition $25 upon re-registration.

"If you pay for the first time, you may never pay again," he said.

Councilwoman Anna Brooks Wednesday voiced concern about a clause in the ordinance that stated that after a seventh false alarm fire and police departments will not respond.

"It's basically the boy who cried wolf," Brooks said. "If something happens after the seventh false alarm, that's your tough luck."

Gallagher assured Brooks the city was within its rights not to respond after the seventh alarm, but he said emergency personnel may respond regardless.

"I don't anticipate there will be more than seven alarms," Gallagher said, adding that the goal of the ordinance is to get people to fix their faulty security systems.

In 2007 the Los Banos Police Department responded to 2,279 calls generated by alarm systems being triggered. In the first four months of this year 775 alarm reports have commanded attention from law enforcement. While the department did not provide information on how many false alarms it responded to in the past 18 months, a staff report does state 179 responses in 2007 were to locations police had to visit three or more times.

Residents and business owners will be notified of registration deadlines through their utility bills in the next few months. All alarms must be registered by Jan. 1.