The alarming costs of false alarms

WICHITA, Kansas — False alarms are a serious concern for law enforcement that affects how many officers are out on the street responding to real emergencies.

Captain Doug Nolte of the Wichita Police Department told KSN, “You can see there’s a big portion of our response time is used up where we want to shrink that down.”

Whether it’s a motion sensor that’s triggered by an animal or a mechanical error, false alarms are a costly problem for Wichita. It’s something Bob Collins, who owns Amerisafe Alarms, understands.

“The goal of the alarm company should be to reduce false alarms to as close to as we can possibly get them,” said Collins.

The numbers paint a clear picture: Last year there were 18,461 alarm calls to Wichita fire or police. Of that number, only 659 — or 4% — were true alarms.

The city — just like most municipalities — they’re not rolling in money and it’s quite expensive for them to respond to an alarm whether it’s real or false,” said Collins.

So who pays to respond to those false calls?

“It’s taxpayer money,” said Nolte.

Whether you have an alarm system, or have ever had a false alarm, you are paying for the cost to respond to the less than 10% of people or businesses in Wichita that have alarm systems.

But who should really be feeling the financial burden?

“If the alarm, the false alarm, was truly the fault of the alarm company, then the alarm company should step up and pay the bill”, argues Collins.

But other alarm companies aren’t so sure.

“Money does not solve all problems,” said Steve Shapiro, ADT Security Systems.

Shapiro says the responsibility should be on the homeowner to make sure the system is maintained and working properly.

“There’s other things that can be done besides just moving money around because that’s not going to solve it. It needs to be solved from the front end.”

To recoup their costs, the city does charge those who are responsible for false alarms.

The first false alarm is free. For police, the charges start with the second false alarm at $40 and go all the way up to $350. For the fire department, costs start at $100 and go all the way up to $750 for repeat offenders.

But it’s a cost that doesn’t add up to some.

“When it happens to me, I set the false alarm, the police come, ask me ‘is this your business, blah blah blah’, then they’re gone,” said Marvin Oakley Jr. “I don’t see $3 million. It doesn’t take but five minutes when they show up.”

The city says it took in $700,000 in alarm fees last year — just a portion of the $2.5 million it costs them to respond to those calls.

Having the right not to respond is something the city is considering.

“They run up a bunch of them,” said Collins. “The city should have the right to not respond. It is an expense to the city.”

“We’re committing resources that could be used elsewhere for public safety that includes fire and police response so we want to limit that and shrink down that issue so it’s no longer a problem,” said Nolte.

Police and fire departments understand it is their job to respond to calls. At the end of the day, they know that the public’s safety is their priority.

Whether it’s a false alarm or a true burglary in progress or anything in that nature, that’s what we do,” said Nolte.

So how do local Kansas cities compare?

Andover

  • 6 free false alarms per year
  • $10 per false alarm after that
  • “Have not sent out a bill in a long time”

Augusta

  • Has no false alarm policy and they don’t collect data

Bel Aire

  • 148 false alarms in 2013
  • 1st false alarm in 1 year is free
  • $25 for 2nd false alarm
  • $50 for 3rd false alarm
  • $75 for 4th false alarm
  • $100 each false alarm over 5

Butler County (excluding Andover and Augusta)

  • 553 false alarm calls between Jan 2013 and April 2014
  • New alarm systems allowed up to 6 false alarms in 60 days
  • No penalty charged if dispatched notified within 4 minutes of alarm
  • 3 free false alarms per year
  • $50 for 4th false alarm
  • $75 for 5th false alarm
  • $100 for each false alarm over 5

Derby

  • 407 of 512 alarms are false
  • New alarm systems free for first 6 months
  • 2 free false alarms per month
  • $25 for 3rd false alarm in month
  • $50 for 4th false alarm
  • $75 each false alarm over 4

Dodge City

  • $10 2-year alarm registration fee
  • 1 free false alarm per 30 days
  • $25 per false alarm after that

Garden City

  • 839 false alarms in 2013
  • 5 free false alarms
  • $25 for 6th through 15th false alarm
  • $50 for 16th through 25th false alarm
  • $75 for each false alarm over 25

Goddard

  • All 102 alarms in 2013 were false

Great Bend

  • 3 free false alarms per month until 12 false alarms in calendar year
  • $15 for 4th false alarm in month or 13th in year
  • $25 for 5th false alarm in month or 14th in year
  • $35 for 6th false alarm in month or 15th in year
  • $50 for any false alarm above 6 per month or 16 per year

Hays

  • 405 alarms in 2013, 342 in 2012 and 321 in 2011
    “Majority of alarms are false alarms”
  • 1 free false alarm per month
  • $15 2nd false alarm per month
  • $20 for 3rd false alarm per month
  • $25 for 4th false alarm per month
  • $50 for each false alarm over 4 per month
  • If fines go unpaid, Chief of Police may revoke alarm permit

Hutchinson

  • Permits: $25 for single alarm, $50 for multiple up to $125 for large systems (schools)
  • 3 free false alarms per month
  • $30 for 4th false alarm per year
  • $50 for 5th false alarm per year
  • $100 for each false alarm over 5 per year

Maize

  • City Costs = $80/hour for 1 officer
  • 2 free false alarms in 60-day period
  • $60 for each false alarm over 2 in 60-day period

Newton

  • 1,572 alarms in 2013
    “Almost all were false”
  • Average cost per call: $9.55
  • Estimate $15,000 total cost in 2013
  • No policy for false alarms

Pratt

  • No policy for false alarms
  • Data is not collected

Salina

  • 2,613 false alarms in 2013

Valley Center

  • No policy for false alarms
  • Data is not collected

Wellington

  • No policy for false alarms
  • Data is not collected

Wichita

  • LINK: City of Wichita Alarm Administration website
    FAQ’s, Policies, forms
  • 96% of alarms are false
  • $2.5 million annual cost
    City costs: $60 each for security, $1,500 for fire
  • $25 annual alarm registration fee required
  • Not charged if alarm canceled within 4 minutes
  • 1st false alarm free
  • 2nd, 3rd false alarms: $40 for security alarms, $100 for fire alarms
  • 4th, 5th false alarms: $60 for security alarms, $150 for fire alarms
  • 6th false alarm: $120 for security alarms, $300 for fire alarms
  • 7th – 9th false alarms: $200 for security alarms, $500 for fire alarms
  • 10th or more false alarms: $350 for security, $750 for fire

Winfield

  • No policy for false alarms
  • Data is not collected
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