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Council approves new alarm ordinance

A new law requiring alarm system users to register their alarms with the city was approved Monday evening.

The ordinance (city code 95.06) requires anyone in control of an alarm system that is intended to summon police or fire personnel to complete a free registration process with the city. Police may issue citations if they respond to an alarm that is not registered. It also deems a public nuisance any alarm system that sounds for longer than 20 minutes, emits an audible or visual signal more than twice within an hour or sounds a false alarm.

The city's intent is to address an issue of faulty systems that sound repeated false alarms, explained City Administrator Dave Osberg and Chief of Police Paul Schnell. Every time the police department is notified of an activated alarm, officers treat it as a crime in progress, Schnell said. At least two squad cars respond to each call. False alarms take those officers away from any other crimes that may be happening and tie them up in paperwork later as they document the call. False alarms consume a limited public resource, Schnell said, and in some cases, key-holders have no incentive to keep their alarm systems working properly. Because they know police will respond, some key-holders won't respond themselves unless the police call them, Schnell told the council.

Under the new law, alarm system users are allowed two false alarms a year. If their alarm sounds more than that, they would be required to pay a fine. The fee schedule will be determined at the May 2 council meeting.

Another key benefit to alarm registration is giving the city and police a person to contact when something does go wrong, Osberg said.

Councilmember Joe Balsanek asked for clarification on which alarm owners would be required to register. There are two types of alarm owners, Balsanek said, those whose systems report directly to central dispatch and those that are not. Schnell said he believed that only those systems tied to the dispatch service would be required to register, but encouraged those with isolated alarm systems to register as well.

Council members spoke in favor of the new law.

"I look at this as a public safety issue in both aspects," Danna Elling Schultz said, referring to the abilities to respond with current contact information and manage false alarms.

"Why would you want an alarm system that isn't working?" she said.

One downtown business owner, Tony Berens, questioned the council on the long-term effect of the law. There is an administrative cost associated with registration, and while the first years might produce enough false alarm fines to make up for that cost, Berens questioned what would happen when the number of false alarms dropped, and the cost of administration exceeds fee revenue. He expected that eventually, the city would have to put a price on registration, he said.

Mayor Paul Hicks told Berens that while he couldn't speak for future councils, it is the intent of this council to keep alarm registration free.