City proposal could impose burglar alarm fees, fines but council not sold on plan - Inside Tucson Business: Top Stories

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City proposal could impose burglar alarm fees, fines but council not sold on plan

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Posted: Friday, July 22, 2011 12:00 pm

Tucson officials have put on the back burner a plan that would require burglar alarm owners to pay annual registration fees and would rework the fines for false alarms.

Under the proposal, there would be an initial fee of $20 when purchasing a burglar alarm and another $20 renewal fee. With an estimated 50,000 active burglar alarms in the city limits, the fees could bring in $1 million annually.

On top of that, there would be false alarm fees, the first of which would be waived if the alarm was properly permitted. After that, there would be a $100 fine for the second through seventh false burglar alarms within a year or $200 for hold-up, robbery or panic alarms. After the seventh false alarm, the fines would go up another $100.

The change to the fines would remove enforcement of false alarms from city court and put it under the authority of an "alarm administrator" to be designated by the chief of police. Alarm customers would be responsible for payment of the proposed fines.

"The whole thing is totally ridiculous," said Roger Score, owner of Tucson Alarm.

Score said assessing fines to customers would be a disincentive to buying a burglar alarm.

He suggests the city fine the alarm and monitoring companies for false alarms.

"It's not the homeowner's fault, they're not professional alarm people," Score said.

Tucson Police officials said they received a total of 18,867 calls from monitoring companies reporting alarms going off in 2010. Of those, officers responded to 9,439, according to city documents.

In addition to the proposed fines, the police would have the option to stop responding to an address when a burglar alarm sounds.

City and other governments would not be subject to the false alarm fines but could be subject to cessation of police response if it has excessive false alarm calls.

Customers also may be required to attend a free "Alarm User Awareness Class." The class would be developed and taught by Arizona Alarm Association member companies, according to the proposed ordinance.

The Tucson City Council discussed the proposed fees at its July 6 meeting, but decided to postpone a vote to an undetermined date.

Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik said he doesn't support the proposed charges. He also was the sole dissenting vote against the fiscal 2012 budget, which included a $1 million line item for the alarm fees.

"We're going to create a disincentive to buy them," Kozachik said.

He said putting an effective annual tax on alarm customers and making them responsible for false alarms would discourage people from purchasing the security systems and potentially have an adverse effect on public safety.

But Kozachik wasn't certain that requiring companies to pay for false alarms was the answer.

"I don't believe anyone would absorb that fee, it will get passed on to the customer," he said.

Another potential issue with the proposal lies in finding a definition of the term "false alarm."

"We have to get a better definition of what a false alarm is," Tucson City Councilman Paul Cunningham said.

According to city code, "False alarm means an alarm signal, sound or message which results in a response by the police department or fire department where an emergency does not exist, or which is not caused by or is not the result of a criminal act or unauthorized entry."

Score also said it's difficult to prove a false alarm.

For example, he said if someone attempts to break into a home or business but trips an alarm, they could flee before police arrive and leave no visual evidence of a break-in attempt.

The alarm owner, however, could face a false alarm fine for the incident.

"The alarm did what it's supposed to do," he said.

He said a better standard would be a so-called verified response system where alarm monitoring companies have to verify an incident before contacting police.

Another option would be to have alarms that don't sound unless they have been tripped two times, Score said.

Cunningham said he's doesn't see the proposal as it stands getting approved.

"What they have in front of us now isn't necessarily good for business," he said.

Contact reporter Patrick McNamara at pmcnamara@azbiz.com or (520) 295-4259.