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City mulls change to false alarm ordinance, keeps it the way it is

False alarms were costing the City of Auburn and its police department a pot of money in 2007.

In that year alone, 2,500 false alarms went off, Auburn police officers responded to 1,800 of them, and the City was out $550,000.

Although the City got back $35,000 from fines and first-time license applications that year, it was a comparative drop in the bucket set against what it was spending, then police chief Jim Kelly argued.

City leaders listened, considered, and in 2009, passed a highly-detailed, 24-page ordinance.

The teeth of the ordinance imposed a charge of $100 for each false burglar alarm and $200 for each false holdup, robbery or panic alarm. The idea was to recover losses.

But it granted property owners one false alarm, and only one, before the hammer dropped.

Citing a recent police report titled "False Alarm Prevention Program 2007 to 2013," Auburn Police Assistant Chief Bill Pierson on Monday told members of the City's Municipal Services Committee that between 2008 — the last full year before the ordinance was put in place — and 2013, false alarm calls decreased 63 percent.

Nevertheless, one resident recently approached city leaders, asking them to consider allowing property owners one false alarm each year.

That would not be such a hot idea, in Pierson's experience.

He said he has seen far too many people pleading faulty equipment to get out from under their fine.

"I kind of have to politely remind them that this is one of the reasons we have this ordinance — that if you don't maintain your equipment, you are creating an undue cost on the City," Pierson said.

The ordinance, Pierson said, is working just as it is because it holds people to task.

"A lot of folks realize the importance of having an alarm system. And I think if we just went to the one (each year) and their equipment starts to go, they are going to be allowed to start that clock over again," Pierson said.

Police Chief Bob Lee noted that the ordinance requires alarm companies to train all of their operators in order to limit the mistakes.

It does this by requiring all alarm users or alarm companies to make two calls before calling 911: the first is to the location of the alarm; the second is a follow up to a second line or to a cell phone to try to get hold of a person to determine whether the alarm is valid.

"People need to keep their alarm company informed ... so if you know it's a false alarm, you can cancel that, and there's going to be no charge," Lee said. "There are some safety nets in there."

"There has to be some accountability," said Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus. "If you are going to have an alarm, you have to be held accountable for maintaining it."

Committee Chair Bill Peloza agreed.

"We are going to maintain the status quo," Peloza said.

The ordinance also:

• Required installers of new panels to incorporate new technologies into the control panels to cut the number of false alarms. It does not require a modification of existing panels.

• Sets a $24 residential and commercial annual registration fee and a $12 senior discount.

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