FALSE ALARM PROGRAM
or 206 684-7713
WHAT IS THE FALSE ALARM PROGRAM?
Prior to the implementation of the 2004 Ordinance, the Seattle Police Department responded to an average of 25,000 alarm calls a year with over 97% of them being false. False alarm response essentially takes many needed patrol officers off the street each year, a waste of a valuable resource. The Seattle Police Department now responds 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.
The 2004 ordinance made these significant changes to our policies to obtain the reduction of alarm responses:
- We began billing alarm companies directly for use of police services including the alarm registration and false alarm fees.
- Basing the registration and alarm fees of cost recovery. The fee structure was 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 would not be billed.
- We now require alarm companies to be licensed and used enhanced call verification prior to requesting police dispatch.
- Requiring physical evidence of 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 response.
Because of the high number of false alarms, police response to alarm calls is a low priority and cannot be guaranteed. The False Alarm Unit recommends that alarm users contact their alarm company to discuss private security guard dispatch. This can be a more timely method of getting a response to your burglar alarm and aids the police department by reducing false alarm dispatches. Your police department is required to respond to a much larger scope of issues and your response may be delayed due to higher priority calls for service.
CURRENT FEE SCHEDULE
|TYPE OF ALARM||FEE|
|Canceled after Dispatch, Prior to Arrival||$30|
|Canceled before Dispatch||$0|
In 2004, the yearly registration fee was set to $40 and the false alarm fee was set to $125. In 2005, the yearly registration fee was reduced to $10 and the false alarm fee was dropped to $90. Those fees remained at that level for five years despite increased program costs and inflation.
Beginning January 1, 2011, the City of Seattle will use a new fee structure for billing false automated (burglar) and activated (panic) alarms. The yearly registration fee remains the same. The new fees are $115 for a false automated alarm and $230 for a false activated alarm. The fee for an alarm cancelled after the officer has been dispatched, but prior to arrival has not changed, and will remain $30.
Activated alarms consist of approximately 10% of the false alarms that have a police response and about half of these are from commercial businesses. Given their nature, these calls require a higher priority police response and typically utilize more resources than the average automated alarm call. Activated alarms thus involve greater liability for the City and unlike false automated alarms there is not a No Response Policy in place to deal with locations that have chronic false activated alarms. In addition, the false alarm rate for activated alarms is almost identical to the false alarm rate for burglar alarms. The False Alarm Unit has noted that other jurisdictions in the greater Seattle area have established separate fees for automated and activated alarms, assigning a higher fee to false activated alarms.
To help reduce the chance of accidental activation of an alarm and possibly being responsible for an alarm fee, we recommend that you review your alarm system instructions:
- Most alarm systems include a panic button; however, alarm installers may not explain how they are used so be sure you receive instructions. Key fob controllers for alarm systems are notorious for accidental trips. You might consider storing your key fob inside some kind of device that would not allow accidental trips.
- You alarm company might be able to deactivate panic buttons if they are not needed
- Review your alarm company’s policies for activated alarms. Many alarms are silent and the alarm company will most likely not call to verify, so you would not know that you even activated the alarm until officers arrive. Your alarm company may be able make the alarm audible or call to verify the alarm before contacting the police
During a time of duress while at home, we suggest that in lieu of activating your panic button you call 9-1-1. This puts you in direct contact with police dispatch and allows you to provide vital information for responding officers. Activating an alarm, instead of calling 9-1-1, allows precious minutes to elapse before the police are aware that a priority response is necessary.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
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.”
vs. Robbery/Panic/Duress (RPD) Alarms? see answer
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 Seattle Police Department will respond to any and all robbery/panic/duress alarms regardless of whether or not the alarm company is licensed.
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 is 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, sending their customer to an alarm user workshop, or disputing the false alarm in an administrative hearing.
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.”
Between July and December of 2008, only 77% of all alarms called into the Seattle Police Department complied with the law. In those six months 1,496 alarms were called in without a UIN. Those are alarms that cannot be automatically billed through the City’s computer systems, and thus require an individual to research the call, contact involved parties and manually prepare an invoice. This is a time consuming and unnecessary effort, which has resulted in approximately $100,650.00 in delayed collection or lost fees due to improper licensing and reporting during that 6-month period. Further, in those six months 812 alarms were called in without utilizing ECV. Using alarm industry studies that indicate 30% - 50% of alarm calls to the police could be avoided by utilizing ECV, it stands to reason that 244 - 406 of these alarms should not have been called in. That would have been an additional reduction of 2.9% - 4.8% of the alarm calls. During that time period, based on other procedures implemented since April 2008, there was an 11.2% reduction in false alarms and a 9.3% reduction in alarm dispatches. Had ECV been utilized, using the 30%-50% estimates of the study, the reductions could have been between 13.9%-15.7% for false alarms and 12%-13.8% for alarm dispatches. Each alarm that is prevented from being called into 911 allows for better service to all citizens of Seattle.
Call the Seattle Police Department’s False Alarm Unit at
(206) 684-7713. They will be able to answer your questions and also offer a free alarm user workshop at least once a month. Attendance at this class provides alarm users with a waiver of one false alarm fee, or can be held and used for a future false alarm. For large community groups or businesses, they will bring the class to you. There are also fee waivers available for other alarm events including private guard options and upgrading to modern equipment.