A successful five years

Published 9:12 pm Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A program designed to reduce the amount of time police and emergency responders spend responding to false alarms has had the desired effect, Suffolk officials say, and the numbers seem to bear them out.

False alarms have fallen by half in the five years since implementation of the city’s false alarm ordinance, which levies registration fees for residents and businesses with burglar alarm systems and then charges potentially steep fees if the systems summon police without cause.

From a high of more than 6,000 in the 12 months prior to implementation, the number of false alarms fell to less than 3,000 in 2013.

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That’s good news for police officers, for the taxpayers who pay their salaries (including the potential overtime hours that pile up when officers respond to extra, unnecessary calls each day) and to the homeowners and businesses that are not left with reduced protection when officers are forced to respond to false alarms.

And, unlike most city taxes and fees, the good news is that fees associated with the false alarm ordinance have actually dropped since the inception of the new program. Whereas registering an alarm system cost the owner $25 a year when the ordinance was instituted, that number has dropped to just $10 a year today.

Fees for false alarms can still be expensive — after allowing a fee-free initial false alarm, the city then charges a property owner $50, $100 and $150 for the second, third and fourth calls to the same address, respectively. Subsequent false alarms are charged at $150 each, and one rather expects the recalcitrant owners would be met with furrowed brows and stern lectures from those who must respond to the repeated unfounded alerts.

Suffolk pays a high price for false alarms, both fiscally and in the loss of efficiency of its police force. It’s completely reasonable for the city to require the burden created by those alarm systems be shared by those who own them, and especially by those who fail to use them responsibly. The deterrent characteristic of that shared cost is amply exhibited by the success Suffolk has had in cutting false alarms during the past five years. It would be hard to argue effectively that the ordinance has been anything but a rousing success.