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Excessive false alarms to bring fines in North Tonawanda

NORTH TONAWANDA – The North Tonawanda Police Department is attempting to put the brakes on local businesses and residents with stricter enforcement of its “Avoidable Alarm Ordinance.”

Beginning Feb. 1, homeowners and business owners will be fined for excessive instances of their alarms going off, causing police to respond when no actual emergency exists.

Training and Support Lt. James Daugherty said the department found officers were spending a lot of manpower on excessive, unnecessary alarms and brought back the fine system, which had been in place in the 1990s.

“The ordinance is on our city books, and when I was a public safety officer, one of my ancillary duties was to monitor the alarm systems,” Daugherty said. “When we started losing manpower through retirement, we started cutting back positions, and I went back to patrol, and nobody was monitoring.”

Daugherty said that over the years the department has added a few officers and was able to fill a few positions. He said when he was placed in the administrative role in the training office, he was asked by new Police Chief William Hall to bring back the alarm monitoring.

He said the standards, as well as the fine amounts, that were in place in the 1990s will be used.

• The first five alarms in a calendar year that are deemed avoidable will be no charge, and owners will be notified each time police respond.

• For six and seven alarms, owners will be notified by mail and charged a $25 fine per call.

• The eighth alarm and any others beyond that will bring a $50 fine per call.

Alarms caused by violent weather, acts of nature or similar situations that are beyond the control of the owner/operator, or any activation of the alarm for any circumstance in which the activator believes an emergency does exist will not be considered an avoidable alarm and will not be counted against the total.

Daugherty said the department has been dealing with some negligent alarm owners who were causing police to respond routinely by not bothering to fix alarms that were being tripped due to issues such as mechanical failure, malfunctions, improper installation and negligence.

“We do spend a lot of time going to the same residences over and over and over again,” Daugherty said. “There’s going to come a time when we wish we had an extra officer and he’s busy taking an alarm call at a place we’ve been to 22 times throughout the course of a year, and the guy never gets his alarm fixed.”

He said the purpose of bringing back fines is to force people to get antiquated equipment either repaired or replaced to make sure it works properly or face paying hundreds a dollars a year until they do.

“I don’t know how many alarms are in this city, but it’s just a handful that cause problems,” Daugherty said. “What annoys us is that we call our dispatch for the guy who owns the business to meet them at the business, and he says, ‘If there’s a problem give me a call back.’ They don’t even come to go through the business with us. That’s not our function.”

He said faulty equipment that goes off repeatedly at the slightest touch is not a good thing and causes people to become complacent after numerous false alarms.

The avoidable alarm fines will run through a single calendar year, and on Jan. 1 of each year the slate will be wiped clean, with each alarm owner again starting at zero, Daugherty said.