False alarms could lead to fees


BROOKINGS – The Brookings City Council heard a first reading and an explanation from Police Chief Dave Erickson on Tuesday on fees for false security alarm calls. The public hearing is set for Aug. 10.

Proposed Ordinance 21-026 is to encourage those who have security alarms to properly use their systems to reduce or eliminate false alarms, Erickson said. It would apply to businesses and private owners.

The ordinance has provisions for canceling the alarms so the owner doesn’t get fined. The fees are laid out in the ordinance, he said.

The first false alarm will result in a warning; a second offense is a $50 fee, a third and subsequent offense is a $100 fee, Erickson said.

The fees are necessary to protect officers, he said.

“Our officers, each time we receive an alarm – whether it be a hold-up alarm, a distress alarm, burglar alarm – are responding to these calls in emergency mode; lights and siren. That, in itself, can be inherently dangerous,” Erickson said.

On the way, officers prepare themselves mentally to handle whatever they might find on the scene, he said, which is stressful to them.

The ordinance is being driven by the number of businesses that have had multiple false alarms, he said.

“Then we have the reverse of that, and where the officers are saying ‘oh, it’s that place again,’ and becoming complacent, which is equally dangerous for the officer, because that time might be the real thing,” Erickson said.

“The ordinance is not designed as a money-maker; it’s not designed as something that is black-and-white. Our attempt behind it, obviously, is to reduce the number of false alarms,” Erickson said.

“The intent is to work with these property owners so when they do have a false alarm, we can take a look at their system and say, ‘OK, here’s some suggestions for you, so this doesn’t continue to happen,’” Erickson said.

He told how officers were responding to one business “multiple times a week … It was because they had their hold-up alarm in a place where people were accidently bumping it,” Erickson said. “There’s an example of telling them that, but they’re not doing anything about it.” 

Councilor comments

Councilor Joey Collins, a former law enforcement officer, pointed out the time the officer has to stay on the call, which is dependent on things such as how long a keyholder takes to arrive and open the building, and the officer to go through the building.

“I’m just a big supporter of this,” Collins said. “I think it’s a good idea, and I wish we would have done it a long, long time ago – like when I was working there.”

Councilor Leah Brink asked Erickson what it costs the police department when personnel are tied up on these types of calls, how many officers are needed and the amount of time it takes them.

“Typically when we respond to an alarm, it’s going to be at least two officers responding, if not three or four, depending on the size of the location,” Erickson said. 

If it’s at night when no one is at the location when they roll up, the officers will stand by and wait for the keyholder to show up “so that they can either say, ‘nope, you guys are good, you can leave’ or ‘yes, I’d like you to go through and clear the building.’ So we can be there a half hour, sometimes longer, depending if the search is extensive,” Erickson said.

“If you look at an officer making $25 to $30 an hour, times four, times the half hour to an hour, it adds up pretty quickly,” Erickson said.

Councilor Wayne Avery joked he might have been responsible for a false alarm or two, arriving early or staying late at work. 

“The average business, probably the last thing they want to do is set this alarm off and have the police come and have to deal with all that,” Avery said, adding most businesses will do their best to comply, but the police will have to work with repeat offenders to let them know what they’re doing wrong. “Now we have a little bit of leverage there.”

That’s the intent behind the ordinance, “to get that cooperation,” Erickson said, added there is a provision that allows the police department some discretion, “so if I’ve got a business that’s truly working on resolving the issue, I can waive that fee if they have a second offense.”

“The problem (is) businesses where we had 150 alarms that we responded to last year. Lot of alarms – that’s one every other day that we’re responding to, and they’re all false alarms,” Erickson said. “The dollar figure adds up and the safety, as well, for our community.”

Councilor Holly Tilton Byrne asked if the ordinance just pertains to businesses.

“If a homeowner had an alarm that went off, would they also be subject to penalty?” she asked.

“Yes, they would be. It’s anybody possessing a security alarm system,” Erickson said.

Tilton Byrne asked if the alarm goes off due to a fault in the system and not the action of a person, would they still be subject to penalty?

“Correct, but in that scenario, that’s where we’d be like, ‘OK, you have a fault in the system, what are you doing to correct (it)?’” Erickson said.

Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]

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