False Alarm Program

Why does Seattle have a False Alarm Program?

  • Before the False Alarm program was created in 2004, the Seattle Police Department responded to an average of 25,000 alarm calls a year with over 97% of them being false.  With the program, we now respond to fewer than 11,000 false alarm calls a year.
  • Despite this reduction, responding to false alarms costs the City of Seattle an excess of one million dollars annually.  False alarm response also takes many needed patrol officers off the street each year to respond to the calls.

How does the False Alarm Program work?

  • Alarm companies are billed directly from the City of Seattle Finance and Administrative Division for use of police services including the alarm registration and false alarm fees.
  • Based on Seattle Municipal Code for alarms, the City has a relationship with the Alarm Companies, not the subscribers.
  • Per SMC 6.10.060 - Duty to inform subscribers of ordinance and billing policies.
  • The fee structure is not designed to generate a profit for the city, but to recover the costs of police dispatch and response. Calls canceled by the alarm company prior to police dispatch are not billed.
  • We require alarm companies to be licensed and used enhanced call verification prior to requesting police dispatch. We requiring physical evidence of a need for a police dispatch to consider an alarm call valid (an alarm signal, open doors, or open windows are not considered valid alarms).
  • We offer a waiver, once every 84 months for those that attend an alarm user workshop or switch to Private Guard Dispatch response.

Does SPD Respond to False Alarms?

  • Because of the high number of false alarms, and because of other demands, police response to alarm calls is a low priority and cannot be guaranteed.
  • Alarm users should contact their alarm company to discuss Private Security Guard Services dispatch. This can be a timelier method of getting a response to your burglar alarm and aids the police department by reducing false alarm dispatches. 
  • The Seattle Police Department will respond to any and all robbery/panic/duress alarms regardless of whether or not the alarm company is licensed.

Upcoming Workshops

  • Our free False Alarm Workshops are available for all residents and business owners. 
  • The workshops are helpful to attend before installing an alarm system, to help you avoid possible false alarms.
  • Attending a workshop is a way for a resident or business owner who had a false alarm receive a 'one-time' waiver from associated fees. 

2019 Workshop Dates: 

  • Tuesday, July 16
  • Tuesday, August 13
  • Tuesday, September 10

Workshop Location

  • Seattle Police Headquarters -  610 5th Avenue
  • Workshops begin at 7:00 PM 
  • Headquarters is a locked, secured building. No entry after 6:50 PM
  • No weapons are allowed in the building

Frequently Asked Questions About False Alarms

A false alarm is defined in Seattle Municipal Code 6.10.005 as, “the notification to the Seattle Police Department or Seattle Fire Department concerning the activation of an alarm system or alarm device when:

  1. There is no evidence of a crime or other activity that warrants the assistance of the Seattle Police Department on the premises, as indicated by the investigation of a police officer on the scene or by the lack of a police report filed by the property owner, and no individual who was on or near the premises or who had viewed a video communication from the premises called for the dispatch or confirmed a need for police response; or
  2. There is no indication or presence of a fire on the premises, that warrants a call for assistance from or investigation by the Seattle Fire Department, and no individual who was on or near the premises or who had viewed a video communication from the premises called for the dispatch or confirmed a need for fire response; or
  3. The dispatch of police or fire personnel was cancelled by the alarm system monitoring company, whether the alarm was cancelled before or after the arrival of police or fire personnel at the alarm site.

The primary difference between a burglary/intrusion alarm and RPD alarms is that RPD alarms are intentionally activated by an individual to notify police of a potentially life threatening incident, where as burglary/intrusion alarms are passive and detect only motion or a broken contact.

The City of Seattle charges alarms companies for every false alarm. Alarm companies may pass this fee onto their customers. The City of Seattle updated its false alarm fees for 2011 to bring them in line with actual expenditures. The fee is used to recover the costs of running the False Alarm Unit and sending officers to false alarms. The fees are imposed when an officer responds to and arrives at a location where an alarm is determined to be false.

  • Beginning January 1, 2011, the City of Seattle began using a new fee structure for billing false burglar and panic alarms. The new fees are $115 for a false burglar alarm and $230 for a false panic/duress/robbery alarm. These changes were unanimously approved by the Seattle City Council as part of its 2010 budget process.
  • The fee for an alarm cancelled after the officer has been dispatched (but prior to arrival) has not changed, and will remain $30. Cancellations before dispatch do not incur a fee.
  • The City’s Finance Administration Section – Revenue and Consumer Protection (FAS-RCP), coordinates the billing for false alarms, as well as the licensing of the alarm companies.

The City of Seattle bills the alarm company for the false alarm. To recover the cost of a false alarm fee, the alarm companies commonly pass this fee onto the subscribers. Alarm company customers that disagree with their billing should dispute this with their alarm company. Alarm companies have several options to obtain a one- time waiver from the City of Seattle, including switching to Private Guard response, or sending their customer to an alarm user workshop.

Each licensed alarm company is issued a Unique Identifying Number (UIN) by FAS-RCP. This UIN is required to be given to the 911 call-taker when an alarm is called into the Seattle Police Department. Effective January 1, 2009, if a company cannot provide a UIN to the 911 call-taker, the call will not be accepted or dispatched.

No. It is not the responsibility of the subscriber to register their alarm system with the City of Seattle. Your alarm company is required to give a list of new subscribers to the City of Seattle quarterly when they turn in their licensing paperwork to the City’s Finance Administration Section – Revenue and Consumer Protection (FAS-RCP). Your alarm company pays a $10.00 annual registration fee for each and every alarm system that they provide service for and can pass this fee onto their subscribers.

The Washington Burglar & Fire Alarm Association (WBFAA) completely endorses the implementation of this policy.

The WBFAA states, “It would level the playing field, ensuring that all companies are playing by the same rules and are in compliance with the effective Seattle Municipal Code. Further, it will have a positive effect on the overall goal of reducing false alarm dispatches and providing cost recovery for the city. This proposal has the unequivocal support of the WBFAA. There is no rationale to support enforcing the law with one segment of the industry while providing the same benefits to members of the industry who are not in compliance.

Enhanced Call Verification (ECV) is an attempt to verify whether or not an alarm is false or if there is criminal activity, making it valid. The verification is performed when the alarm company makes a minimum of two calls in an attempt to contact someone associated with the alarm address to verify if police response is needed.

The Seattle Police Department requires ECV on all automated alarm unless there are exigent circumstances. Activated alarms, such as panic, hold-up, or duress alarms, do not require ECV.

Owners of alarm systems can request their alarm company use ECV for activated alarms and to call additional numbers or contacts prior to requesting police dispatch for any alarm activation. This could further reduce your chances of receiving a false alarm fee from your alarm company.

If you don’t believe your alarm company is using Enhanced Call Verification, you have the following options:

    • If you feel the alarm company has made a mistake or has not followed the ordinance, you will need to dispute that with the alarm company.
    • You may attempt to request that they send you a call-log verifying that they used ECV. Please note, your agreement with the alarm company is a private civil contract between you and your alarm company.
    • The Seattle Police Department’s False Alarm Unit works with the Alarm company to ensure that the standards are upheld, but the actual resolution of any billing dispute will be between the alarm company and the subscribe

    • The monitoring company calls two numbers and gets no answer at either number. This is proper ECV and the call will be accepted.
    • The monitoring company calls one number, gets subscriber who says dispatch the police. This is proper ECV and the call will be accepted.
    • The monitoring company calls a business and gets a person that does not know the cancellation code. This is not proper ECV and the call will not be accepted.
    • The monitoring company needs to make the second call to try to verify the person inside (i.e. Bob, the new employee closing up, answers the phone but doesn’t know the code. The monitoring company should call the second number and find out if Bob is supposed to be there before calling 911). Once a second call is made, the ECV requirements have been met and the call will be accepted.
    • The monitoring company calls in after making zero or one verification attempts, but there is an exigent reason, sensitive location or other reason to dispatch the call. This is an exception to ECV and the call will be accepted at the discretion of the call-taker.
    • The monitoring company calls in stating they have real time audio or video on a site and their review of the audio/video indicates that a crime is in progress (not just someone on site) This is proper ECV and the call will be accepted.
    • The monitoring company calls in after making zero or one verification attempts. This is not proper ECV and the call will not be accepted.
    • The monitoring company calls in and says they were refused dispatch because they had not made two calls, but now they have and they are requesting dispatch. This is proper ECV and the call will be accepted.
    • The monitoring company calls in a robbery/panic/duress alarm but has not made any verification attempts. This is proper ECV and the call will be accepted – robbery/panic/duress calls do not require verification.
    • The monitoring company calls in a burglary/intrusion alarm but does not have UIN. The call will not be accepted.
    • The monitoring company calls in a robbery/panic/duress alarm but does not have a UIN.  This call will be accepted and the False Alarm Unit will follow up with the City Of Seattle Finance Administration Section-Revenue and Consumer  Protection (FAS-RCP) so they can get them licensed.
    • The monitoring company calls in stating they have a note on the file not to call the subscriber first, but to dispatch the police immediately. This is not proper ECV and the call will not be accepted – the alarm company needs to talk to their customer and advise them that this is not an option for them.