November 2, 1998
False alarms targeted
by Andrew Walgamott
WOODINVILLE--With passage of new regulations in Woodinville, owners of businesses and homes with chronic false alarms will be hit where it hurts - in the wallet.
Hoping to cut down on lost man hours and improve officer safety, the Woodinville City Council passed a new law that fines businesses and home owners for excessive false alarms.
Police Chief Ken Wardstrom explained that this July, officers responded to 105 alarms in the city. All were false, and according to Wardstrom, took up 35 man hours, based on an average 20 minute response.
Under the new law, commercial businesses will be fined $50 for the third, fourth and fifth false alarms in a rolling six month period. Residences with four and five alarms over six months will be fined $50 as well.
For the sixth, and any additional alarms, the fine will be $100 an event for commercial and residential. In July, one company had four false alarms, and another had five, according to Wardstrom.
He said false alarms take officers away from other calls and community policing. He hopes the fees will reduce the alarms.
But over in Bothell, Captain Bob Woolverton said fines have had mixed results.
"For the individual private citizen, it hits them in the pocket book and forces them to think twice. With the businesses, they just write it off as a business expense," Woolverton said.
He adds that fees "don't fulfill cost recovery and don't seem to be a preventative measure." In 1997, Bothell had a total of 1,399 false alarms. "If false alarms were a crime, they'd be our number one crime," he said.
Woodinville's code "mandates alarm companies have ways to reduce false alarms and train users," Wardstrom said. He said alarms are typically triggered through employee error, while motion detectors can be set off by a pet or wind blowing through an open window.
Wardstrom also worries that officers responding to repeated false alarms may let down their guard.
"Put yourself in a patrol car and you've gone to a business five times in a month. What happens the sixth time? Do you assume it's false? It's a dangerous position to fall into. With the false alarm reduction program, it makes it safer for officers," Wardstrom said.
The program also says that police have the option of responding after the sixth false alarm in sixth months.
Wardstrom said that does not affect residential or manually activated panic alarms, adding, though, that fines could be levied under the fee structure.