New London to impose fines for false alarms that call for police response

New London – The City Council has approved an ordinance that will impose fines of up to $250 for false alarms that police say are happening much too frequently and wasting valuable department resources.

New London police responded to 1,874 non-fire alarms in 2018 and a staggering 99.5 percent of those calls were false alarms. Only six in all were for a legitimate reason and required a police report.

The alarms are typically monitored by a service and include burglary and robbery alarms.

Crime Prevention Officer Ryan Soccio said the department responds to alarms with at least two officers on every call to conduct a property check and estimates it cost the department $32,795 in manpower hours alone in 2018. There were 1,909 alarm responses in 2017, 14 of which were considered legitimate calls.

In addition to the cost, New London police Capt. Brian Wright said the false alarms pull officers from their proactive patrols for an average of 15 minutes per call often to find a malfunctioning system or cleaning person without an updated security code. On many occasions officers are on scene longer trying to get in touch with a keyholder.

“False alarms are costly and dangerous and could delay responses to real emergencies,” Wright said. “Every time one comes in, an officer gets tied up for what could be a good period of time.”

Repeat offenders include the various school buildings, Shaw’s Cove office complex and medical offices along Montauk and Ocean avenues, Soccio said.

The new ordinance passed unanimously by the City Council imposes fines and updates an antiquated ordinance that did not provide a mechanism for registering alarms, said Councilor Alma Nartatez, chairwoman of the public safety committee.

“This is just one of the many ordinances that will be updated and make stakeholders more accountable,” Nartatez said.

The overall goal is for businesses and homeowners to stay vigilant and keep alarms in proper working order, she said.

The first two false alarms get a free pass while a $100 fine will be imposed for the third, $150 for a fourth, $200 for the fifth and $250 for every subsequent.

In conjunction with the ordinance the city will contract with the aptly-named CryWolf Alarm Management Services for the administration of the program and collection of fines. Cry Wolf is related to Central Square Technologies, which already provides the Computer-Aided Dispatch software at the department.

There is no cost to register an alarm system but there will be a $100 fine if police respond to an unregistered alarm. Registrations will be done online through a website maintained by CryWolf, in conjunction with the city.

CryWolf will have access to police department reports on alarms but manage the bills sent to alarm owners. A hearing and appeals process will also be developed.

The issue of false alarms is not confined to New London. Norwich police said they responded to 1,999 alarms in 2018 and less than 10 where their reports were taken, an indication it was a false alarm.

Waterford has had an ordinance like New London’s in place for several years that imposes fines for both fire and non-fire alarms. Fire alarm owners are fined up to $100 and non-fire alarm fines, after the third false alarm, face fines starting at $25 and rising incrementally to $100.

Waterford Police Lt. Steve Bellos said it had been a problem and eating up valuable manpower. While Waterford false alarm numbers were not immediately available, Bellos said the numbers dropped after the first year of implementation, as owners took notice.

A timeline for the start of the program is not yet known but Nartatez said there will be a concerted effort by the city to communicate with the public before its implementation.

“What I don’t want is for people to come back and say ‘I had no idea,’” Nartatez said.

g.smith@theday.com

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