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Alarmed by false alarm fees | Letters
At the June 21 council meeting, Police Chief Brian Wilson was met with a divided council, but the chief’s remarks left more questions than answers. Let’s charge the citizens more for false alarms — that was the bottom line.
The chief’s idea was to raise the disciplinary fee for accidental activations to a high of $300, the highest in South King County, for a false alarm. Why? Just because? He also proposed taking away the first few free responses that we were originally gifted. Recalling back to when this illegal tax was first created, it could be slightly more justified as our force was much smaller in officer numbers, crime was higher, and we had a substantial amount of local businesses that accounted for the majority of these alarms.
We do not meet these statistics anymore. Needless to mention that average citizens are struggling to remain “average” and unemployment is the highest in our city’s history.
When some council members questioned the higher rates, Wilson stated that supervisors have the “discretion” to cancel any false alarm fees if they (the homeowner or business owner) had a “valid reason” for the accidental activation. The act of accidental implies at least a minor act of negligence? By the end of the meeting he added that the “patrol officers” also have the “discretion” to cancel false alarm fees. Fact: If an officer responds to a false alarm of a residence or business, the officer has only two ways to clear the call. Either false (billable) or positive (crime occurred).
If it’s a good alarm, that means a crime occurred and the alarm did its job. No charge. A false alarm or defective alarm, accidental trip, are all billed violations. I could not find anything that allowed for the use of discretion in any policy related to the alarm ordnance. It was purposefully misleading to the public to even broach the issue of discretion.
Chief Wilson’s most recent actions have been to take discretion out of the officer’s hands, not allow for it. With the city’s current deficit, what supervisor or patrol officer will be willing to place themselves in a position to be questioned for canceling the false alarm notice simply because the victim can’t afford the high cost? And, what justifies a good excuse to not bill a citizen and then charge a different neighbor later? If the policy is not in writing, it does not exist, regardless of the chief’s statement. It’s either charged as a false alarm, or determined to be a good alarm (crime).
It was also mentioned that many residents have audible alarms that are not contracted with an alarm company. This is true. However, if you are not at home, and your alarm activates and a neighbor calls the police regarding the alarm, the city will fine you if you’re not home and the officer can’t find a sign of a crime. What if a burglar was shaking your windows and doors thus tripping the alarm? (Suspect runs away, police arrive) No one would know it was a “good” alarm, and you’re still fined. This is illegal and should be rejected by the citizens. If it’s an ongoing noise complaint, the city has an ordinance to handle that. A citizen does not have to maintain a contract with an alarm company to have an alarm. However, this ordinance implies just that.
Robert Piel, Federal Way