In hopes of reducing the number of false alarms responded to by police in Pittsburg, the city will require a use permit to operate private alarm systems.
The permit, which would apply to current and future alarm owners, will cost residents $65 per year and businesses $95 annually. The fees would help recoup administration costs, city officials said.
Police department staff time and resources are frequently wasted responding to activated alarms when no emergency exists, resulting in unnecessary spending of city money, Lt. Wade Derby said. The new ordinance allows Pittsburg to license and regulate alarms, track them and contact the owner of a triggered alarm, he said.
"What we're trying to do in Pittsburg is take a proactive approach and make our service more efficient," Derby said.
The hope is that the permit information could be placed into a real-time database so officers can quickly contact home or business owners. The former practice was time-consuming because police had to track down the alarm company and sometimes encountered outdated homeowner information and other hindrances, Derby said. About 90 percent to 92 percent of the city's alarm calls were false in the past year, he said.
The City Council voted 4-1 in favor of the ordinance Monday. Councilman Michael Kee cast the lone dissenting vote, saying the fee put an unfair financial burden on residents.
"Basically, my concern is that times are economically difficult for everyone. To tack another fee onto homeowners just to keep their data seems unreasonable," Kee said.
The ordinance sets a fine of $250 for each false alarm from an unregistered alarm system. Those possessing a registered system will not be penalized on the first two false alarms each year but will incur a $250 fine for each additional false alarm.
The former ordinance fined owners $100 for the first false alarm, $150 for the second and $250 for each additional violation within the same year.
Police believe that waiving fines on the first two false alarms will help if systems malfunction or need fixing.
"Chances are we won't have to respond again," Derby said.
Kee questioned what happens with unforeseen circumstances like blackouts or other "things residents have no control over." Derby said that events out of residents' control won't count toward fines.
"We're more interested in compliance, that alarms are in good working order, and who the responsible party is," he said, adding that responding officers would "err on the side of the citizen."
The ordinance also allows Pittsburg to regulate alarm companies to make sure security systems are installed in a manner that reduces false alarms.
Many cities, including Antioch, Livermore and Concord, charge similar alarm-use permit fees. Some cities have a lower annual registration fee than the one enacted by Pittsburg but charge higher penalties.
Derby says Concord is an example that requiring permits reduces false alarms. Concord, with a population of about 124,000, had roughly 2,800 false alarm calls last year, while Pittsburg and its population of about 65,000 had roughly 4,200 calls.
Paul Burgarino covers Pittsburg and Bay Point. Reach him at 925-779-7164 or firstname.lastname@example.org.