City reports drop in false alarms to TPD

An ordinance aimed to reduce the instances of Tacoma police offers responding to false security alarms appears to be working, according to a report released during a July 28 meeting of the city’s Public Safety and Human Services Committee.

“This is excellent news, and something we’ll share with others,” said city attorney Tom Orr, who presented data prepared by the city’s Business Licenses and Occupation Tax (BLOT) division, as well as the Tacoma Police Department (TPD), to support a drop in false alarms.

The presentation was the first opportunity for city leaders and Tacoma residents to learn about the effectiveness of an ordinance that took effect April 1, 2003 in an effort to control the growing number of false security alarms, and hold security alarm operators and property owners responsible for time and resources expended by the city. According to the ordinance, a false alarm is defined as the reporting of the activation of any monitored alarm system where police units dispatched to the location determine that there is no evidence of a crime or other activity on the premises that would warrant a call for immediate police assistance or investigation. The city presumes an alarm to be false if the responding law enforcement officers do not locate evidence of intrusion, commission of an unlawful act, or emergency on the premises that might have caused the alarm to sound.

In those instances, a $60 fine is applied.

“If it truly doesn’t look like a break-in, it’s a false alarm,” said BLOT manager Jodie Trueblood

According to the report, the number of false security alarms dropped from 8,436 in 2003, to 5,333 in 2004, and a projected total of 4,836 in 2005. These numbers are promising in comparison to statistics prior to the ordinance. Between 1996 and 1999, the number of false security alarms rose from 7,588 to 11,828. Similarly, the costs associated with responding to these alarms rose from approximately $230,000 to $600,000. Since the ordinance was passed, the city has reported a rise in revenue of approximately $600,000 in 2003 to $1.4 million in 2004. The city is projected to earn revenues of approximately $1 million by the end of this year.

“I’m not sure if we have recouped the costs over the years, but we’ve reversed that flow,” said city attorney Tom Orr, who added that the city has yet to receive any requests to appeal a fine, though that process exists.

Still, TPD Chief Don Ramsdell expressed concerns over his department’s ability to respond to alarms — real and false — with limited staffing and a demand on resources. “The calls have obviously gone down, which is nice to see,” said Police Chief Don Ramsdell. “But we’re still responding to a high number of calls.”

“It could be better,” said Councilmember Mike Lonergan, “but it is good news.”