False alarms to carry stiffer penalty

NORTH BEND - As the current year winds down, law enforcement officials in North Bend are reminding residents and business owners that starting Jan. 1, they could be charged if police respond to too many false alarm calls.

The North Bend City Council passed an ordinance on May 15th to impose a fee on security system owners and users if they have more than one false alarm at the same location in a rolling six-month period. The ordinance also requires that they file a contact card with the King County Sheriff's Office North Bend substation, which will list the business owner's or resident's name and phone number in case an alarm does occur.

Sheriff's Office Chief Sgt. Grant Stewart said false alarms from security systems represent a substantial cost to the city of North Bend, because of lost man hours and an increased amount of calls to 911 operators who dispatch police officers.

Stewart said he did not have any figures on how much money the ordinance would save the Sheriff's Office, which constracts with North Bend to provide police services. But he added after the city of Woodinville passed a similiar false-alarm ordinance, the number of calls police officers responded to decreased by 50 percent.

" If I could cut the same for the city of North Bend, I think that would be a considerable savings," he said.

North Bend police officers were dispatched to the most number of false-alarm calls - 43 - during August, but the problem goes back even further.

"I did a survey on dispatch calls for service [during the months of January through April], which showed 14.6 percent of North Bend calls were for alarms, and of that, 14 percent were false," Stewart said. "We spend a large amount of time just responding to alarms."

For the months of June through September, officers were dispatched to 159 false-alarm calls. One hundred eighteen of those calls were from businesses, which equals 74 percent of the total number of false-alarm calls.

Stewart said many of the alarms were due to employees not knowing how to properly turn on and off security systems.

"We respond to every alarm as if it were the real thing," he said. "We take alarms extremely seriously, and we want alarm owners to take them seriously as well."

The Sheriff's Office has already sent out notices to businesses and residents after false alarms to warn them of the new penalties.

The contact-card portion of the ordinance went into effect May 29. The service-charge portion of the ordinance begins Jan. 1. It is the first time the city of North Bend has had an ordinance regulating false alarms.

After Jan. 1, the first false alarm will be free. The second will result in a $25 fine. A third violation will incur a fine of $50, and the fourth, fifth and sixth false-alarm calls will cost $100 each time.

In addition to a $100 charge, a fourth false alarm in a rolling six-month period may result in a "no response" status, meaning the Sheriff's Office can use its discretion not to respond.

The Sheriff's Office is asking residents and business owners to stop by the station to fill out the contact card if they haven't already done so.

"We want to make sure that the emergency contact information is correct - especially if we find an insecure premise, so we can deactivate or turn the alarm off," Stewart said.

If the reason for the false alarm is a mechanical error, Stewart said the owner should try to fix the system as soon as possible to avoid any more false alarms.

If the alarm goes off accidentally, a resident or business owner can call the Sheriff's Office to let it know it was a mistake.

"As long as they cancel, we won't issue them the notice," Stewart said.

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