Tucson False Alarm Ordinance Causes Controversy Within Industry

By Ashley Willis

TUCSON, Ariz. — In a 5-2 vote, the city council here approved a revised alarm ordinance that requires alarm owners to pay an annual $20 permit fee, reports the Arizona Daily Star.

The ordinance does allow alarm users to opt out of paying the fee and forgo a police response. Alarm users who pay the $20 fee would not pay any penalty for their first alarm. They also have the option of getting a second violation waived by attending a false alarm prevention class. Meanwhile, those who aren’t registered must pay a $100 fine or attend the course for the first violation. After the seventh false alarm, police will suspend response.

The city maintains that the new fee, which takes effect April 1, will help generate up to $1 million a year to help TPD recover the cost of responding to false alarms. The ordinance had full support from the Arizona Alarm Association (AzAA); however, three local alarm companies — Tucson Alarm, Advanced ProTechtion Systems (APS) and Young Alarm — strongly opposed it, stating that the measure could likely put small alarm companies out of business.

“A lot of our customers called and wrote letters because a lot of them are barely hanging on,” APS Owner Eric Altman tells SSI. “It’s silly to think that the entire $20 is going to go directly to TPD. Maybe $8 will go to TPD, but the other $12 will go to administrative costs. We fear that two years from now, we’ll be getting another letter to send out to all our customers saying that the $20 fee has increased to $50. Who knows how many customers we’re going to lose with this?”

Roger Score, owner of Tucson Alarm, agrees, explaining that alarm owners will begin to take matters into their own hands rather than relying on TPD for assistance.

“A lot of our customers don’t want to pay the permit fee, and they don’t want TPD showing up at their businesses or houses anymore,” he tells SSI. “So instead of having a trained police officer show up at a burglary, grandma can show up with her handgun if some kid breaks into her house. That’s what the department is promoting with this ordinance.”

Score and Altman say it would be best to hold alarm companies responsible for false alarms, which they believe would actually help generate revenue for alarm companies.

“If the city fined the alarm company instead of the homeowner, you can bet your sweet bottom dollar that an alarm company would get that thing fixed ASAP,” Altman says. “So, then, if the end user keeps having problems with the alarm, you can pass the fee onto them. That’s how those dollars would be recouped instead of nailing the customer every time.”

For its part, the AzAA maintains that the revised ordinance is beneficial for the city of Tucson. The previous ordinance required alarm users cited with a false alarm to appear and court, which most citizens did not like, AzAA Executive Director Susan Brenton tells SSI. With the revision, users can just pay the fee and carry on with their day. Additionally, she explains that the new ordinance helps the TPD track alarms throughout the city.

“There is nothing unusual about this ordinance compared to ordinances in other cities in the state,” Brenton says. “We were afraid that when cities realize that they are losing too much money, police departments may not respond at all, and that’s not where we wanted to go. We believe in working along with the police departments, and we realize such things like false alarm fees make sense.”

For his part, Altman isn’t opposed to building partnerships with law enforcement, but not at the expense of putting alarm companies out of business.

“The AzAA is comprised of about 43 alarm companies — the majority being national alarm dealers — and 41 police departments,” he says. “Why are there police departments in the AzAA, other than the fact that they are all in cahoots? I’m all for building partnerships with police departments to make things better, but if you’re building those partnerships to pick companies that are the winners and losers, then that’s inherently wrong.”

Brenton says that AzAA has made efforts to work with the opposing companies, with no success.

Ashley Willis is associate editor for SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION. She can be reached at (310) 533-2419.

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