False alarm calls continue to decline in Las Cruces, N.M.

City officials credit recently implemented alarm ordinance


Aug. 01--LAS CRUCES -- The city's security alarm ordinance, which aims to curb false alarms and was fully implemented last December to include fines for rule-breaking residents, is working.

Numbers of security alarm calls continue to fall, officials from the Las Cruces police and fire departments reported this week. And almost all the more than 500 people fined under the ordinance are those that failed to register.

Comparing the latest information available, LCPD has responded to nearly 20 percent fewer alarm calls so far this year. LCPD's data shows 1,542 alarm calls through April 2014. Last year, through April, there were 1,915 alarm calls.

Data from the Las Cruces Fire Department wasn't as detailed, but apparently showed similar results. Battalion Chief Ted Sweetser said alarm reports fell 33 percent from 2012 to 2013, and he expects another decrease this year.

Wrote Sweetser in an email to the Sun-News about the ordinance: "I think our numbers show that it is ... effective at reducing the number of false alarms while keeping our units in service for the higher priority calls from our citizens."

In the works for a couple years, City Council passed the alarm ordinance January 2013. The goal, officials said, is to reduce false alarm calls, which unnecessarily tie up first responder resources, costing the city an estimated $400,000 in 2011.

A false alarm, for the purpose of the ordinance, goes beyond the accidental tripping of an alarm system. It means authorities responded to the scene and found no corresponding emergency.

Starting last August, the ordinance required alarm owners to register their security systems: $25 per year for individuals, $50 for businesses. Once an alarm is registered, officials track false alarms it generates.

Violators, fines

Then in December, after a grace period, officials sent out fine notices for two types of violations: 1) failing to register for a permit before a false alarm is reported and 2) accruing more than two false alarms per year. The penalties can range from $100 to $300.

In the seven months that the ordinance had enough muscle to squeeze Las Crucens' pocketbooks, nearly all the fines have come from owners who did not register their system before having a false alarm.

Between Dec. 1, 2013, and June 30, officials mailed 791 violation letters, said Hugo Costa, director of the Mesilla Valley Regional Dispatch Authority, which handles administration of the alarm ordinance. Of those, 528 went to unregistered alarm owners.

When an unregistered security system produces a false alarm, the owner can be subjected to $200 in fines, Costa said. It's $100 for the false alarm, and $100 for failing to register.

Industry officials estimate there are about 10,000 alarm owners in Las Cruces, Costa said, and about 2,500 have registered under the ordinance.

Only five alarm owners have been issued fines after a second false alarm.

Appeals process

The first two false alarms generate a warning letter, and Costa said MVRDA has sent 203 of those type of letters.

There is an appeal process. The $50 fee is refundable for those that win their appeal. Costa said fewer than 10 of about 40 people that have appealed ended up winning their case.

Costa noted that the first fine can be waived through an online "Alarm User Awareness Class." It costs $20, a fee that goes to the private firm which operates the class, and is not available to those fined for not registering their alarms.

MVRDA has experienced a drop in call volume that Costa attributes to the Las Cruces alarm ordinance. He said the county and other area municipalities may looking at similar alarm registration policies because of the success city officials have seen.

James Staley can be reached at 575-541-5476.

Copyright 2014 - Las Cruces Sun-News, N.M.