Light duty – and good news regarding the city’s year-old alarm ordinance -- greeted the Spokane Valley City Council on Tuesday after a Christmas break.
Before taking a two-week vacation, council members were told on Dec. 14 that there were bugs in the city’s security alarm law that went into effect Jan. 1, 2010.
Under the ordinance, home and business owners with security systems must register and pay a $25 fee (and $15 annual renewals). The idea, say Spokane Valley Police officials, is to pay for a program where a private contractor assists with keeping an updated contact list so security system owners can be reached quickly when officers arrive at the scene of tripped alarms.
There are also fines for false alarms, which take officers away from their other duties. Home owners pay $85, while businesses are charged $165, with exceptions and an appeal-process in place for first-time calls.
But city resident Allan Hinkle told council members on Dec. 16 that he called the security company to cancel an alarm after it was accidentally activated in mid-November and no police responded to his home.
“Ten days later I received a bill for $85 from the City of Spokane Valley False Alarm Reduction Unit,” Hinkle said. “This is a bogus bill and blatantly untrue.”
On Tuesday, however, Lt. Matt Lyons, who is in charge of the program, told the council that police did respond to Hinkle’s home on Nov. 16 and that they were unable to contact him.
“He was mistaken,” Lyons said. “The call was not canceled. Officers did respond.”
The officer went on to say that Hinkle “understands what happened” and “he’s satisfied.”
Lyons said there’s been a 7-percent reduction in the number of false-alarm calls in the city from 2009 and, more importantly, there has been a 14-percent lowering of repeat false alarms.
“Obviously that frees up our resources,” Lyons said.
Lyons is also in charge of the appeal process for those who feel they’ve been unjustly fined under the program. Most of the time, he said, people just want to explain their side of the story.
“Out of approximately 50 appeals, only three qualified as a legitimate appeal,” Lyons said. The “vast majority” of the cases are, instead, mistakes by the alarm owner; but the fine is often reduced by 50-percent as long as the problem is corrected, he added.
Lyons also wanted to clear up the misconception that the program is a “moneymaker” for the city or police department.
“The vast majority of people don’t have alarm systems,” he said. “It’s not fair for them to subsidize the rest (who do).”
In other news, the council unanimously approved a revision to the city’s governance manual that will allow absent members to “attend” and be allowed to vote at meetings via telephone or videoconferencing. Prior notice is requested, and the council will have to approve the action at the start of the meeting.
Council Member Bob McCaslin serves as a state Senator to the Legislature and often misses meetings while in session in Olympia.