By Bill Robinson
Members of the Richmond City Commission agreed Tuesday to revisit the ordinance setting penalties for owners of fire and burglar alarms that sound more than three system-generated false alarms a year.
The review was prompted by a request from Commissioner Laura King and a resident who attended the commission’s work session. The resident’s complaint was prompted by a letter he received from the police department giving him three days to register his burglar alarm after his system generated a false alarm.
Under an ordinance adopted last March, owners of existing alarm systems are not required to register them until they generate a false alarm. However, installers are required to notify the city when they install new alarms.
If an alarm owner is out of town for an extended period, responding in three days after a letter is received would be difficult, the resident said.
Also, the permit form asks if firearms, hazardous materials or animals are present at the alarm site.
“Who has access to that information,” he asked, “and who can they share it with?”
Police Chief Larry Brock, City Attorney Garrett Fowles and most commissioners said they agreed a three-day response was too short. However, the chief said no one had been held to that time limit.
City Manager Jimmy Howard suggested the response time be extended to as many as 20 days, to which no one objected.
Brock said including information about firearms, hazardous materials and animals on the permit application was optional. He and Fowles said the form could be redesigned to indicate the information was not required.
The information sought on the permit application is routinely asked when a caller requests a police or fire department response, both Brock and Fire Chief Buzzy Campbell said. The information helps responders know what to expect when they arrive at a scene, they said.
When police respond to a burglar alarm, they always assume an armed burglar may be inside, Brock said. The question about hazardous or flammable materials is of more concern to firefighters.
King said three other constituents had voiced complaints to her about the ordinance. They were unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting, and she wanted the commission to hear from them before making revisions.
One complaint concerned the escalating fines levied for continued false alarms, she said.
After a third false burglar alarm, the ordinance calls for a fine of $50 each for the next two false alarms. The fine for the sixth and seventh false alarms is $100 each. Subsequent false alarms are subject to fine of $300 each.
The fines are heavier for false fire alarms. The fine for the fourth and fifth false alarm is $250 each; $500 each for the sixth and seventh, and $1,000 each for subsequent false alarm.
While up to two police officers respond to a burglar alarm, several firefighters and often two vehicles respond to fire alarms, Fowles said, explaining the different amounts.
The intent, however, is not to produce revenue but to motivate alarm owners to repair or replace faulty alarm systems, the city attorney said.
King said she thought the fines, especially $1,000 for eight or more false fire alarms, was too high.
One business owner had told her he was prepared to surrender the business license he had maintained for 30 years instead of risking a $1,000 fine.
Mayor Jim Barnes said he was opposed to lowering the fines because a business owner could reasonably be expected to repair or replace a system that had generated eight or more alarms in one year.
In the case of burglar alarms, King said burglars will attempt to trip an alarm to gauge police response time. A burglar once deliberately tripped a burglar alarm of hers eight times before being apprehended, she said.
Alarm fines may be appealed, Brock said, and he had waived the three fines that had been appealed to him.
Fines are not levied when a false alarm is generated by weather or some other cause beyond the owner’s control, he said, even if an owner accidentally trips an alarm.
While 33 systems have generated four or more false burglar alarms since the ordinance was adopted, the police chief said, only five had incurred six or more, with two incurring as many as nine.
Bill Robinson can be reached at email@example.com or at 624-6690.