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False alarms tie up police in Federal Way | Chief proposes higher fees
In 2010, Federal Way police responded to 2,357 alarm calls from homes and businesses. Of those alarm calls, 65 percent (1,548) were classified as false.
Because of this number, the Federal Way City Council heard a presentation from Federal Way Police Chief Brian Wilson on Tuesday to discuss increasing fees on alarms. Both the city and police department hope the change will help curb the number of false alarms that police are called to investigate.
Wilson said under the current fee schedule, the first three false alarms are no charge to citizens. After the third, the fee schedule kicks in, with the fourth and fifth occurrences resulting in a $50 fee, and anything after that costing $100.
When an alarm call is triggered, anywhere between one to four Federal Way police officers will be sent to investigate. A minimum of seven officers are on patrol from midnight to noon. From noon to midnight, a minimum of nine officers are on patrol. During peak times, that number is 14 to 15 officers, Wilson said.
“A burglary alarm, typically we would send one to two officers to check that residence,” he said. “If it’s a robbery alarm, we’d send three or four. Generally the type of alarm and the information we receive dictates how many officers respond.”
Another reason for the fee increase would be to discourage false alarms, Wilson said, because of the resources that are tied up on these calls. Depending on the time of day, about 35 percent of the officers on duty in Federal Way could be pulled away to investigate potential false alarms.
The proposed fee schedule originally presented by Wilson differentiated between burglary alarms and robbery alarms, with different amounts for the two categories. Under Wilson’s original proposal, the fee schedule was to look like this:
1st call: Free
2nd call: $25 for burglary, $50 for robbery
3rd call: $50 for burglary, $75 for robbery
4th call: $100 for burglary, $150 for robbery
5th call: $150 for burglary, $225 for robbery
6th call: $200 for burglary, $300 for robbery
Wilson shared some of the fee schedules throughout Puget Sound, in order to add some perspective to the proposed increases for Federal Way. Kent charges $10 per call, regardless of the number. Burien implements a $100 fee across the board, and Tacoma’s fee is $65 per call. A first call in Fife is free before $30 and $60 fines begin. In Des Moines, the first two calls are free, then $100 to $200 after, according to Wilson.
City council chatter
Mayor Skip Priest said the proposed change to Federal Way’s fee schedule was acceptable, in light of what regional cities charge.
“These are fairly reasonable based off what other jurisdictions are charging,” Priest said.
Council member Jim Ferrell felt most of the new fee schedule was fair, but asked if the second false alarm could also be free.
“Maybe the approach is to start fining people on the third. That’s what I’d be comfortable with,” he said.
With that thought in mind, Ferrell motioned to amend the original proposal. Ferrell’s motion passed with a 4-2 vote, with council members Linda Kochmar and Jeanne Burbidge being the two nay votes. Kochmar explained her vote, saying the original fee schedule was thoroughly discussed at a recent public safety committee meeting.
“Sometimes people don’t sit up and take notice until they’re charged,” she said. “I can certainly empathize with trying to save our citizens money. But we have to realize this is an issue, this is a problem, and it’s taking some of our officers off the street.”
The proposed amendment will be revisited by the council’s July 5 regular meeting. The council will have its second reading, and can vote to approve the amendment at that time. If passed, the revision will take effect 30 days from the day of the vote.