The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

August 1, 2012
Sacramento council poised to hike fines for false alarms
It's probably logical, even justifiable for the city of Sacramento to charge higher fees for false alarms.

But there's still the nagging sense that this is more nickel-and-diming of residents.

The City Council is scheduled to vote tonight on higher fines for false fire alarms. If it goes along, homes and businesses would continue to get a free pass on the first two false alarms within a year. 

But fines would kick in with the third: $120 for residences and double that for commercial buildings. For a fourth false call, the fines would rise to $150 and $300; and for a fifth, $180 and $360. An administrative penalty would be tacked on for subsequent false alarms.

UPDATE: Dennis Rogers, senior vice president for public policy and economic development at the Sacramento Metro Chamber, tells me that the item may be pulled from tonight's agenda so that the Chamber can work with the city on the issue.   

UPDATE #2: Council action on the issue was postponed until Aug. 21. City Manager John Shirey says he pulled the item because there may be some incorrect information in the staff report.

The Fire Department says it wastes a lot of its staff time and resources on false calls, with the most common cause being inadequate maintenance of automatic alarm systems. False alarms account for about 15 percent of all emergency calls, about 8,700 incidents a year. A standard response to a downtown commercial building requires units from three or four stations; hundreds of times a year, those units are then unavailable for real emergencies, the department says. It also says that similar programs are in effect in many other California cities, including Roseville and West Sacramento.

Last month, council members unanimously approved similar fines for false burglar alarms.

Now, there are no fines for the first three bogus calls, and the penalty for next five is $50 each.

Starting Oct. 1, the fines will start with the second false burglar alarm, costing $60. The third will cost $80. Second false panic or robbery alarms will cost $120 and the third $220.

Also, after three false calls at the same address, police will not respond until the alarm has been verified as real.

The Police Department says that it has averaged 26,000 false alarms a year for the last three years, 97 percent of all alarms calls. That hurts the ability to respond to legitimate emergencies, especially when budget cuts have reduced the ranks, the department says.

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About The Swarm

The Swarm is written by members of The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. They meet daily and are separate from the newsroom. Views included here are those of individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of a majority of the board or the positions expressed in The Bee's editorials.

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