Unpaid False Alarm Fines Result in Delayed Police Dispatch

In Spokane, Wash., delinquent false alarms fines can result in police postponing response to some monitoring center calls.

SPOKANE, Wash. – This city’s false alarm ordinance has come under scrutiny following recent crime events that were met with delayed police response because the alarm owner was delinquent in paying previous false alarm fees.

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Under a city ordinance called the False Alarm Reduction Program, businesses and residences that use intrusion alarm systems must pay annual fees of $25 or $35. Otherwise, Spokane police will not respond to some dispatch calls from security companies, The Spokesman-Review reports.

Enacted in 2007, the ordinance is an effort to reduce the high rate of false alarms. Of the 4,100 burglar alarms sounded in 2014, only 127 or 3% were considered valid, ongoing emergencies, according to Spokane Police Department data.

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The newspaper cited a burglary on Saturday (Aug. 8) at a Spokane convenience store during which intruders triggered an alarm around 5:30 a.m.; however, officers did not dispatch to the location until after 2 p.m. because the owner of the store had an outstanding false alarm fine.

The owner, Shaheen Mutloob, told the newspaper he’s upset that police took so long to respond to the burglary. Mutloob was home at the time; the store was closed while burglars spent an estimated 30 minutes looting his business. He arrived at the store and reviewed video surveillance footage of the first burglar pop out of the ceiling, jump over the counter and enter the back of the store to let in a second individual through an exterior door, according to the newspaper. The two, both wearing ski masks, proceeded to steal dozens of rolls of lottery tickets, a box of cash and a large tin of spare change, among other items.

Officer Teresa Fuller, a police spokeswoman, told the newspaper police ignored ADT’s call because Mutloob hasn’t paid fines and late fees for a false alarm that occurred last March. She told the newspaper police were preoccupied the morning of the burglary due to an armed standoff at a Spokane home, which ended when police fatally shot a man who opened fire on them.

“At the point (Mutloob) called us, the damage was done and the suspects were gone,” Fuller said. “It wasn’t an active scene, and we had active scenes elsewhere.”

The fees that the city collects help offset the cost of sending vehicles and personnel to false alarms. The goal, the ordinance reads, is “to assure that responses to false alarms do not diminish the availability of police services to the general public.”

In addition to the annual fees, burglar alarm users pay fines for each false alarm that prompts a visit from police – $85 for residences and $165 for businesses. In 2014, the city collected $292,086 through this system.

“I want to make sure it’s very clear that, should a crime occur … we will respond to the crime,” Fuller said. If a resident or employee calls 911 during an emergency, police will respond as quickly as possible, she said. The ordinance does not apply to so-called panic alarms, which are activated manually at the site of an emergency.

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