City still looking for solution on false alarms

Story by Chris Graham
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Waynesboro police ran 633 calls in 2009 for what turned out to be false alarms triggered by electronic security systems. That’s a call or two a day every day for the year. At 28 minutes per call on average spent dealing with the calls, that’s a half-hour to an hour a day wasted.

You’re not going to find too many people who would take issue with the notion that something needs to be done to tamp down the number of false-alarm calls. It’s the what-do-we-do part that people aren’t agreeing on.

“I don’t have any problem with having to register until we say you’ve got to register and state specific things about what’s in the home or the business that the police could be aware of. I don’t have any problem with registering, but a fine structure and an ordinance, I think we can do without that,” Vice Mayor Frank Lucente said last week in leading the charge against a proposed city ordinance that would have put into place a fine structure for repeat offenders.

Lucente and the rest of City Council are behind an effort to undertake a public-education program aimed at informing owners of electronic-security systems of their responsibilities toward keeping information about their systems on file and taking steps to make sure that their devices are working properly.

There also seems to be sentiment toward drafting a city ordinance that would require security-system owners to register their systems with the city to ensure that contact information is up to date.

Police Chief Doug Davis feels that effort is a good first step. “I think it’s going to be difficult to have any success trying to go the education route if we don’t have anything to enforce it with,” Davis said.

Mary Kay Wakefield with the Richmond Alarm Co. told City Council at a public hearing on the proposed ordinance on March 22 that a permitting system is essential to the overall effort. “That’s actually the number-one key piece that you need,” Wakefield said. “You need to identify the users. You also need the permit to identify the alarm industry, the installers and the monitoring companies. You also have permits to identify hazards. When the police or fire department is responding to a location, the 911 operators have access to any hazards that might be in the home or the business, for example, handicapped people or dangerous chemicals.

“It’s important that this permit be approved every year because about 17 percent of users change their service company or their monitoring company every year. It’s critical to keep this information up to date,” Wakefield said.

“The object with this ordinance wasn’t to fine people. It’s to effect a change in behaviors,” said Lynn Comer, the owner of Shenandoah Valley Security and a member of the Virginia Electronic Security Association.

“The position of the Electronic Security Association is to get the installing companies to really do solid training,” said Comer, whose company not only makes training for new customers mandatory but also requires its installers to have customers sign off that they have completed the training. “That reduces false alarms just there,” Comer said.

“Right now they’re spending taxpayer resources chasing down false alarms. The goal was in changing the behavior to allow those resources to be utilized in other ways. So you’re not chasing down nothing here. You’re not having officers chase down something that isn’t there,” Comer said.

It’s not that those in the industry and in law enforcement assume that people don’t keep this information up to date for malicious reasons, Davis said.

“Things just change. Your phone number changes, you drop your home phone to use your cell as your home line, your contact person changes,” Davis said.

“Our object is to modify behavior and to reduce the number of false alarms,” Davis said.

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