In Lexington, Alarm Fee Is Sent Back to Committee

The police department's proposal to charge a $15 annual fee to each business and homeowner with an alarm system to reduce the number of false alarms was sent back to an Urban County Council committee for additional work yesterday.

The proposal was referred to the council's services committee because several council members raised questions about enforcement. The move also gives the public more opportunity to comment.

"We got calls and e-mails about 'What will this cost me,' 'How much will I have to pay,' 'Are there alternatives by working with the alarm company,'" said Councilman Bill Farmer, chairman of the services committee.

The police department proposed the change to the city's alarm ordinances to reduce the number of false alarm calls, so officers would be free to handle other priority calls.

In 2001 and 2002, police responded to more than 15,000 alarm calls, and more than 99 percent of them turned out to be false. In all, about 7 percent of the department's workload comes from answering false alarms.

In addition to the $15 annual fee, the department has proposed stiffer penalties for false alarms: A $100 fine for unregistered alarm systems and a $25 fee after the fourth false alarm in a calendar year. The fine could reach a maximum of $500 after the ninth false alarm.

The police also want to create a three-person False Alarm Reduction Unit -- a sergeant and two staff assistants -- to oversee registering every business and residential alarm in the city for a $15 annual fee. The estimated $225,000 to $300,000 generated from the fee would be used to pay for the unit.

Currently, the alarm ordinance requires a $15 one-time registration fee. Alarm owners are allowed five false alarms within a 90-day period at one address before a warning notice is sent to the alarm owner and alarm company.

During yesterday's discussion, council members posed a number of scenarios.

Councilman David Stevens said a citizen had asked him what happens if a burglar attempts to break into a home, sets off an alarm and runs away after the alarm goes off. Does that constitute a false alarm, because the burglar is gone before the police arrive?

Citizens won't be charged with a false alarm if there has been a criminal attempt to gain entrance, said Lexington police Capt. Craig Newton.

There are usually signs, such as broken glass, if someone has tried to break into a home, Newton said. "If you're trying to attempt to jimmy a door, there's usually pry marks."

But if a resident believes he has been wrongfully charged with a false alarm, he can appeal the decision, Newton said.

Councilwoman Jennifer Mossotti, who is a Realtor, said she has tripped several alarms when she has shown homes to clients.

"Who gets fined in that situation, the homeowners or the Realtor?" Mossotti asked.

The police department will continue to fine-tune the proposal until all of the council's questions are answered, police Chief Anthany Beatty said. "We'll keep on working on it. It's something that should happen."

The largest problem with the current ordinance is that alarm owners haven't been required to update their registrations, Beatty said.

Since the registration information could be 15 or 20 years old, when officers respond to alarm calls, they don't know who the property owner is, who has the keys to the building or who can turn off the alarm, Beatty said.

Residents also need to remember that they won't be assessed any fines until after the fourth false alarm, Beatty said. "One alarm is not going to result in any penalties."