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Burglar alarm reforms in Everett aim to cut false calls for service

EVERETT — Triggered home alarm systems prompt police to respond, rushing to the scene as a priority call under the presumption there is a fresh burglary in progress.
However, more than 90 percent of the time in Everett, the alarm is a lie. Sensitive alarm systems that automatically call 911 are often the culprit.
The Police Department encourages people to have security alarm systems, but wants to cut the false calls down. It is asking for a three-prong approach to curtail automated false alarms. A core piece is to mandate an alarm company to verify the situation before calling 911 on the homeowner’s behalf. Barring a phone call, a company could verify quickly using video monitoring or by having a security company go look first before calling the police.
Other new rules in the proposed ordinance would require alarms to be registered with a permit, and impose fines for a false alarm.
Department statistics show there were 4,699 alarm calls in the city last year, and 4,499 were false alarms. Sixty-six alarm calls resulted in a criminal report being made — meaning the alarm did its job.
Alarms are “a blessing and a curse” for police departments, Everett Police Captain Greg Lineberry explained.
Evidence shows a verification call to the homeowner before the company calls 911 should greatly reduce false alarms by up to 60 percent, Lineberry said. It’s working in cities such as Seattle, Bellingham and Yakima that already have this mandate.
Some of the largest security monitoring companies, such as ADT, already make these check up calls.
Lineberry, a veteran officer, said he’s had his home alarm set off before, but because the company called him first to ask what’s going on, he could quickly stop the alarm company from calling 911 on his behalf.
The permit fees would be $30 for residential alarms and $50 for commercial entities. The rates are reduced to $15 for senior citizens and people with disabilities, and to $25 for nonprofits.
An alarm company would have to obtain the permit and most likely pass along the cost to the homeowner, Lineberry said.
If it’s a do-it-yourself burglar alarm system, the homeowner would be the alarm manager and would have to get the permit themselves.
A false robbery or duress alarm call would cost a $200 fine, but the first fine could be waived if the owner takes an alarm awareness class.
The ordinance wouldn’t consider it a false alarm if abnormal circumstances such as a windstorm or an electrical surge caused it. It also wouldn’t be considered a false alarm if the alarm owner intentionally sets off the alarm if they think there is an emergency when it’s just a mistake.
The department will likely create a public education campaign as part of the effort if approved, department spokesman Officer Aaron Snell said.
The Police Department doesn’t have registration fees right now, and it doesn’t impose fines for false alarms. It used to have fines for false alarms until 1991 when the department’s tracking software stopped tracing false alarm calls.
The City Council will vote at its Wednesday, Dec. 5 meeting. The council meets at 6:30 p.m. at 3002 Wetmore Ave.


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