Police Chief Steve McCulley says he has no intention of dropping the program, which 80 percent of residences are signed up for, but he'd like to reduce the amount of time his officers spend responding to false alarms.
A report the chief prepared for the Jan. 17 City Council meeting says that from January 2016 to November 2017 the police department received 4,599 alarm calls — all of them false. While the department was able to determine that about half the calls were false alarms without responding, checking out the others took up the equivalent of 13 months of one full-time police officer doing nothing but responding to false alarms, at an approximate cost of $136,000, he reported.
"It's very disruptive," he said. "I know we can do much better with our time."
The chief said that in the past year, 350 residents had more than one false alarm call, with one resident racking up 18 such calls.
"It's becoming an increasing problem," he said.
Chief McCulley recommended that residents start paying a $50 annual alarm registration fee, have their alarms inspected annually, and face a $200 fine for all false alarms beyond the first each year.
"This is not revenue-generating for the police department in any way," he said. "It does create awareness."
Council members said they've heard from some residents who didn't see the proposal in quite the same way. "They see this as nickel-and-diming the residents, coming on the heels of the loss of the parcel tax," said council member Bill Widmer.
He asked for an allowance of more than one false alarm call before the fines kick in, and said he does not support an annual inspection requirement.
One speaker said the inspection could cost close to $200 each year, which some residents might find difficult to pay.
Council member Mike Lempres said that the cost could be hard on some of Atherton's longtime residents. "There's an awful lot of people in town who aren't millionaires or billionaires," he said.
Mayor Cary Wiest said the fines could also have another negative impact on some elderly residents. His mother, he said, would simply not turn on her alarm if she thought she was bothering the police department.
"I would not like to see ... this impact our senior population," he said.
City Manager George Rodericks said he would bring back an ordinance that has a small annual fee, no inspection requirement and an escalating fine after the second or third false alarm call.
The new proposal will also include a process to waive the fines for older residents and the town will work to educate its residents about the impacts of false alarms, he said.
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