Tucson council OKs permit fee for alarm users

Opponents call opt-out provision a ‘sham’
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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

TUCSON, Ariz.—The City Council approved a revised alarm ordinance on Feb. 28 that allows end users to opt out of paying a new $20 registration fee, but opponents say the provision is a “sham” and that the fee is an unnecessary burden on their customers.

The new ordinance and fee drew public opposition from the owners of three local alarm companies—Tucson Alarm, Young Alarm and Advanced ProTechtion—who also expressed privacy concerns about being required to provide customer lists to the Tucson Police Department. Police say the information will only be used to help officers respond to alarms more safely and efficiently, and to bill end users for the annual registration.

Councilors approved the revisions by a 5-2 vote. Maria Malice of the Arizona Alarm Association, who worked with police on updating the city’s 2004 alarm ordinance, was among those who spoke in favor of the measure. Roger Score, owner of Tucson Alarm, was among those who spoke against it.

Supporters said the registration fee could bring in up to $1 million a year, helping police recoup the cost of responding to false alarms. Malice said the opt-out provision was added in response to concerns voiced in the months before the final vote.  

“[End users] can opt out if they have a service that responds to their alarm instead of calling the police department, and the police would only be called when a verified emergency happened,” she said.

Malice said that alarm users who register will get an additional false alarm per year for free under the revised ordinance.

“The first one is free, and for the second one they can go to an alarm [awareness] class and get that one for free as well,” she said. “If they don’t have a permit, it’s $100 for the first time.”

For permit holders, the third and subsequent false alarms will result in a $100 fine, with the levy rising to $200 with the eighth violation. Previously, the fine for the first false alarm was $300. The revised ordinance also shifts the processing of fines to the city instead of having them handled by the courts.

Malice said the alarm registration and customer lists could help police reduce false dispatches by giving them a better understanding of false alarms and where they are occurring.

“They’re going to know that alarm company A has 100 accounts and 85 false alarms, so they would be high on the scale, while alarm company B has 10,000 customers and only 100 false alarms,” she said. “[Police] don’t have that information right now.”

Score, the owner of Tucson Alarm, called the opt-out provision a “sham” and questioned the city’s approach for reducing false alarms. He said it would be more effective to hold alarm companies accountable instead of customers, adding that by failing to do so the city was condoning substandard service.

“If you don’t want any police sent to your house, you can opt out,” he said. “In other words, if you want to pay taxes for police service but you don’t want to utilize that service, you don’t have to pay another tax. ... The city is tolerating bad behavior [by some alarm companies] with this ordinance. Instead of coming after the company, they’re attacking the customer.”

Malice said the new measure, which was scheduled to go into effect April 1, is good for both the police department and alarm customers.

“I know that Roger and his group weren’t happy about it passing, but it really is better for everybody,” she said. “[Customers are] getting additional false alarms, and it’s going to cost them less when they do get a fine. It’s better all the way around.”