Alarm program causing confusion, but achieving goal

Published 10:27 pm Saturday, October 17, 2009

When Erin Martin received a $25 bill from a Colorado company she didn’t recognize, she thought it was a scam and threw it in the trash.

Two months, a late fee and several phone calls later, she realized it was a bill for the annual registration fee for her burglary alarm system, part of a Suffolk program begun in April to reduce the number of false burglary alarms that occur in the city.

The bill Martin received came from Alarm Tracking and Billing Services, based in Colorado Springs, Colo.

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“On the bottom of it was this phony-looking city of Suffolk logo,” Martin said. “I threw it in the trash.”

A couple of months later, Martin began receiving what she described as “nasty” phone calls, and also was slapped with a 100 percent late charge on the original $25 bill.

That’s when she called the city and found out it was legitimate, she said.

“I really don’t think this is fair,” she said. “I was never notified of this. I had a few friends that did the same thing I did, just threw it in the trash.”

When Martin called the city, however, she found she and her friends weren’t the only ones.

“The woman that answered the phone said, ‘If I had a dollar for everyone of these phone calls, I’d be able to retire,’” Martin said. “It was nice to know that I wasn’t the only one having that problem.”

The city, Martin said, resolved her problem quickly, wiping the late fee off her account and only asking her to pay the initial $25 registration fee.

“When I eventually got to people with the city, I was really happy with the way they handled it for me,” she said. “I think they handled it poorly initially.”

Suffolk Police Capt. Stephanie Burch said the program, meant to reduce the number of false burglary alarms, appears to have been successful with only five months of data.

In the two years before the regulations took effect, the police department responded to about 10,400 needless burglary, robbery and panic alarms at Suffolk homes and businesses.

However, between April 1 and Aug. 31 this year, the city saw a 22 percent reduction in false alarm calls compared to the same time frame last year.

“That’s pretty good, considering we only have five months worth of data to really work with,” Burch said. “We’re ahead of what we anticipated.”

“That translates into hundreds of hours of manpower saved,” noted city spokeswoman Debbie George.

Burch said calls about the ordinance have come in to her office, but “proportionally speaking a very small number of the 7,600 alarm owners or users in the city.”

“A very, very small portion of those people have called in to say they didn’t know anything about it,” she said. “We did a good job on the front side through public meetings, electronic and print media. There’s always going to be people who maybe are not plugged into those mediums.”

Martin said she thought the city should have sent letters notifying residents of the new regulation, rather than just the registration bill that she thought was false.

George encouraged anybody who receives mail that appears to be a scam to contact the police department, and also encouraged any alarm owners who hadn’t yet registered to go ahead and register.

“We want all of our alarm owners registered and in compliance with the program,” George said.

“We’re very pleased with what’s been accomplished so far,” Burch said.

For more information on the alarm program, call 514-7927 to speak with a police officer, or 1-866-950-8185 for Alarm Tracking and Billing Services.