Town of Hurst, Texas, Adds Alarm System Fee

Bruce Wertz didn't pay the city anything when police responded after his home burglar alarm sounded 40 or more times one weekend last month.

A defective fire alarm was to blame, and Wertz said he had the problem repaired within 48 hours of his return from a four-day trip to Michigan.

But false alarms are too common in Hurst, Assistant Police Chief Steve Moore said. Last year, officers responded to false alarms at 330 homes and 500 businesses.

This week, the City Council tentatively approved alarm permit fees for businesses and a mandatory permit fee for residences if police respond to a false alarm at the address. A second, final vote on the fees is expected during the council's Nov. 23 meeting.

"This has taken sworn officers off the street," Councilman Henry Wilson said. "Three hundred and thirty addresses, to me, is unacceptable."

If the council gives the ordinance final approval, the cost of a commercial business burglar alarm permit would be $50 annually, up from $15 every two years. Businesses would also pay $50 for a separate permit for robbery alarms -- a fee not currently charged by the city.

The ordinance would take effect Jan. 1.

Businesses frequently have false alarms, Moore said. Last year, for example, police responded to 39 false alarms at Fun N Sun Marine Tackle and Ski Shop on Hurst Boulevard and 23 at Blockbuster on Pipeline Road, he said.

Managers at those businesses could not be reached by telephone for comment.

Businesses and homeowners in Hurst would have to renew alarm permits annually by Jan. 15, under the ordinance.

Several other area cities, including Arlington, Fort Worth and Grapevine, have adopted similar ordinances to reduce the number of false burglar alarms.

Hurst's ordinance would provide an appeals process for residents like Wertz, whose alarm malfunctioned, Moore said.

"We're not after making a lot of money off somebody; we're after fixing the problem with false alarms," he said.

From 2000 to 2003, Hurst police responded to an average of 1,639 false burglar alarms and 141 false robbery alarms from businesses a year. During the same period, the department responded to an average of 1,048 false burglar alarms at residences per year.

Last year, officers and dispatchers spent 1,157 hours responding to false-alarm calls. Moore estimates that the false alarms cost the department $40,000 in work not related to fighting crime.

"If we can cut down on false alarms, more officers would be available for other service calls," Moore said. "It's hard to focus on problems somewhere else in the city with all these false alarms going off."

Wertz, who serves on a city board and frequently attends council meetings, applauded the city for trying to reduce false alarms. But, he said, the permit fees should be uniform throughout the city.

"If the city is trying to raise revenue, then all homes should be required to be permitted," he said. "Otherwise in way, it's penalizing those that have problems and not those that don't."