False alarms may yield high fines

For New Haven residents, false burglar alarms may soon become as costly as burglaries. But that cost won’t apply to Yale.

A new city ordinance, passed by the Board of Aldermen’s Public Safety Committee earlier this month and expected to be approved by the full Board of Aldermen before the end of the year, would increase the penalties for false alarms. New Haven police said the old system for penalizing false alarms is inefficient and forces officers to waste thousands of man-hours every year. With the new, stricter system in place, police added, residents will have a strong incentive to update and maintain their alarm systems to prevent unnecessary 911 calls.

But Yale, since the Yale Police Department handles all alarms, has no plans to change its system, which levies no penalties for false alarms.

Joe Avery, a spokesman for the New Haven Police Department, said the city’s old false alarm system was too lenient and not well-enforced. According to the old city ordinance, New Haven residents get three free passes for false alarms, and then they are fined $45 for their fourth, and $75 for each subsequent one. But because the alarm tracking software is outdated, police have not given out a false alarm fine in three years, Avery said.

Under the new ordinance, residents would receive only one free pass, then be fined $75 for their second false alarm. The fine doubles to $150 for their third and jumps to $250 for each one thereafter. The new ordinance also requires city residents to register their fire alarm system with the NHPD within 90 days of its enactment, with a $99 daily fine for those who disobey. The police department has also installed new software to keep track of alarm systems across the city and to enforce the proposed law.

The New Haven Police Department responds to roughly 10,000 to 13,000 burglar alarms per year, Avery said. Over 97 percent are false alarms. (Yale police respond to around 120 burglar and panic alarms per month, or about 1,440 every year, YPD spokesman Lt. Steven Woznyk wrote in an e-mail last week.)

Responding to false alarms, Avery said, is now one of the most common activities for New Haven police. It is also the most useless, he added.

So far this year, the NHPD has answered 6,000 alarms, with fewer than half of 1 percent resulting from criminal activity. For every alarm, two New Haven officers respond to the scene and typically spend at least 30 minutes checking the situation. That adds up to thousands of hours of police time that could be spent doing “actual police work,” Avery said.

On Yale’s campus, police and security personnel also spend a significant amount of time responding to alarms.

“When you take into consideration response time, locating the alarm activation points along with conducting an inspection, total time spent on these types of calls can be lengthy,” Woznyk said in an e-mail.

But unlike New Haven, Yale has no consequences for false alarms. The nearest Yale police or security unit responds to the alarm and assesses the situation, but no one foots the bill other than the University. At Yale, police, not individuals, are also responsible for alarm upkeep.

Yale’s system works fine the way it is, Avery said. He said Yale is able to use security personnel in many cases without tying up police resources on routine alarms. New Haven has no equivalent, supplementary force.

Avery said he hopes the ordinance will be passed because the number of false alarms triggered in New Haven has long been a problem. He has been trying to push for alarm reform since 2003 by building awareness and support for earlier versions of the ordinance.

“This has consumed my life for years,” he said.

Residents fined under the new ordinance will have 10 business days from receiving written notification of the penalty to appeal it.

Comments

  • Veritas

    What’s the point of registering the alarms?