San Diego Approves False Alarm Ordinance Revision With Help From SIAC

The city adopted enhanced call verification (ECV), plus sharply reduced permit fees for alarm systems and hiked fines for false alarms.

SAN DIEGO – The San Diego City Council voted to revise an alarm ordinance this week in an effort to reduce false alarms and free up law enforcement for higher priority tasks.

The approval comes after eight years and multiple proposed revisions. To achieve final approval a second reading will be required along with a signature by San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

Members of the alarm industry and the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC) advocated for the revision, which includes adopting enhanced call verification (ECV), during a city council hearing Monday (April 10). The council voted 6-3 in favor of the new policy, which sharply reduces permit fees for businesses and homeowners with alarm systems, but hikes fines for false alarms.

The council was divided over whether alarm system owners should be fined for all false alarms, or whether they should be allowed to have one false alarm per year without incurring a fine.

San Diego Police Department officials said an estimated 20,000 hours of officer time is squandered annually responding to false alarms. That number is expected to drop by up to 90% under the new policies, officials say.

Among the public speakers who addressed the council in favor of the new ordinance were Cathy Rempel, president of San Diego-based American Security Integrators, and SIAC’s Jon Sargent and Ron Walters.

Rempel, past president of the California Alarm Association (CAA), referenced the alarm industry’s model ordinance, saying, “We have a best practice here that is truly getting to those that need to learn,” the San Diego Reader reported.

Sargent, who serves as an industry/law enforcement liaison for Tyco, explained to the council when changes such as those adopted in the new ordinance have gone into place in other cities that false alarms have dropped dramatically. He also speculated that with a population of about 1.3 million, the city’s estimated 40,000 local alarm permits will probably double once everybody gets on board, the newspaper reported.

SIAC Director Ronald Walters explained how ECV – a process that requires at least two calls to two different phone numbers be made in an attempt to verify intrusion signals – would be implemented when asked by a council member. Walters said that roughly 77% of all of residential alarms are caused by user error. With the population of cell phones, he said the second call verification has been very successful with residential customers. However, it’s been less successful on the commercial side, the newspaper reported.

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Walters used the example of a large box retailer that has 1,000 outlets nationwide. He said that if you give that retailer’s security director the choice to get two calls or to dispatch the police immediately, the answer is usually to dispatch immediately. He said the ordinance makes the two call verification mandatory.

Under the revised ordinance, the annual cost of alarm permits will be reduced from $50 to $10 for residential alarms, and from just over $86 to $10 for commercial alarms.

Fines for false alarms, which the city hasn’t previously issued, would be $100 for the first false alarm, $200 for the second, $300 for the third, $400 for the fourth and $500 for the fifth and beyond.

When contacted by SSI, Walters said, “While this was the single provision that brought the most discussion by the city council and the industry, we must look at the experience of other agencies enforcing similar legislation. If the city vigorously enforces this ordinance they should experience 85% of alarm users with no dispatches in any 12-month period and another 8% only have one.”

Previously, the city charged only when multiple false alarms had prompted revocation of a permit, which happened relatively frequently. Revocation fees ranged from $110 to $2,200 depending on how many times it had happened before.

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