Fines May Silence San Francisco’s False Alarms


The Board of Supervisors on Feb. 11 unanimously voted to cut down on the false alarm problem in the city by placing its Emergency Communications Department (ECD), the 911 department, in charge of enforcing and collecting false alarm penalties.

According to the San Francisco Examiner, home burglar alarms in the city go off an estimated 60,000 times a year. More than 57,000 of them are deemed false.

The new tracking system goes into effect May 1. Until then, San Francisco Police’s 10-person burglary detail—reportedly criminally overworked – will continue to respond to home alarm systems.

Under the new system, every city resident with an alarm system—estimated at 60,000—will get a free pass with the first false alarm. After that, three yet-to-be-hired ECD collections officers will fine and collect $100 for a second offense. The top fine—for five or more infractions—is $250 per false alarm, said ECD finance director William Lee.

“This adds new functions to our department, but it should decrease the number of 911 calls, so it increases public safety,” said Lee in the Examiner. “Less police officers will need to go after these lower priority calls.”

The bill also will force alarm companies to get involved. They now must collect the $40 annual residential alarm license fees (and $60 commercial fees) and pass them on to the Treasurer’s Office, instead of the Treasurer’s Office collecting them.

Supporters say the new bill will do two things: More fees will be collected—none of the projected $1.9 million per year has been collected since the initial ordinance passed in June. And, it might lead alarm companies to create alarms that do not malfunction as often.

“It’s not that these (false) alarms are scaring burglars away—mostly the calls we get turn out to be mechanical or electrical problems,” said San Francisco Police Officer Eric Olsen, who oversees the 10-person burglary detail. “The alarm companies’ financial incentive is going to be greater if they are paying for it,” he said. “They are going to create a better product.”

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