False alarms in Phoenix come at a hefty price for city officials, business owners and residents alike.
False alarms from businesses and residential areas cost fire and police officials millions of dollars and many hours each year, according to the City of Phoenix website.
An article by local radio station KJZZ claims 986 of the 48,256 alarms Phoenix police responded to last year involved crimes.
The Phoenix website states common human errors that lead to false alarms are entering incorrect keypad codes; not locking doors and windows; and not educating those in the building about the alarm system. Equipment malfunctions can often be attributed to improper installation, not checking alarm batteries and failure to test smoke detectors.
Any false alarm other than a false fire alarm is defined as “any alarm caused by human error or equipment problems requiring police response, with no evidence of an actual crime having been committed,” according to Phoenix’s website. False fire alarms are set off because of equipment malfunction.
Phoenix Police Department spokesman Sgt. Tommy Thompson said officers want to minimize the number of times they respond to false alarms so they can dedicate that time to alarms set off by criminal activity.
Home and business owners are required to submit an alarm permit application and pay a $17 application fee every year to maintain their alarms, according to the city’s website. The applicant must list the phone numbers of at least two people who can respond to an alarm that goes off within 30 minutes of the activation and the company that monitors the alarm.
Mr. Thompson said permits aid the police in contacting the owners of the alarm systems so they can be notified if a crime is occurring.
“As an officer out on the street, if I’m responding to a call, the first thing I want to do if I find a valid alarm is I want to be able to contact the owner of the residence,” Thompson said. “[The permits] allow me to contact someone if I need them for a valid alarm. They also allow me to contact somebody if they’re having issues with their alarm so we can get it taken care of.”
Home and business owners without permits, according to Phoenix’s website, will be subjected to a fee of $96 for every burglar alarm activation and $105 for every fire alarm activation.
If a resident or business owner has more than one false alarm activation within a yearly period, they are also subject to those fees.
Mr. Thompson said police want to resolve any issues alarm owners may have with their systems to help officers better utilize their time.
“If we can identify, as soon as possible, the problem, maybe we can go out and help the individual [or] we can have them contact someone who can help diagnose [and] to see if there’s a problem with their alarm,” he said.
During an Oct. 9 Public Safety and Justice subcommittee meeting, Phoenix employee Jessica Rothschild told subcommittee members how Phoenix police handle false alarms.
She said any location with 10 or more false alarms within a year will be subject to a fee of $200 and a required alarm inspection.
“The reason for the inspection is to identify equipment malfunctions, to make the alarm system more reliable and to bring parties into compliance,” Ms. Rothschild said.
She says home and business owners can attend a false alarm prevention class to waive the $96 and $105 fees for alarm activations. The program informs alarm owners about the reasons false alarms occur, provides information about false alarms and teaches alarm owners prevention tips.
False alarms do not reduce crime, and instead create a liability for the city and other parties involved, including homeowners and alarm companies, according to the website.
During a meeting Oct. 9, Michael Nowakowski, a Public Safety and Justice subcommittee member and councilman for District 7, said false alarms are taking up police officers’ time.
“It seems like we’re taking officers off the streets to go to these false alarms, and it looks like there’s quite a few false alarms that we have out there,” Mr. Nowakowski said.
Editor's Note: Kaleigh Strong is a student-journalist at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism