Fines intended to reduce false alarms

The city expects to spend more than $750,000 this year alone on false calls.

by McKenna Ewen

The Minneapolis City Council hopes to free up police for more patrols and faster response times by cracking down on an alarming problem.

False burglar alarms in Minneapolis, which keep police from other work, have decreased steadily since 2002, but the city hopes to quicken the decline by increasing fines.

“If the amount of false burglar alarms were reduced, we would be more available Ö to handle 911 calls for service or be proactively looking for situations that need law enforcement intervention,” Minneapolis Police spokeswoman Lt. Amelia Huffman said.

“We believe that increasing the penalties associated with false alarms will hopefully have a corresponding decrease in the number of those alarms,” City Regulatory Services Director Burt Osborne said.

In 2006, 93 percent of the burglar alarms that Minneapolis police received, or 15,628, were false. That same year, the city issued 9,887 fines to anyone with more than two offenses, with exemptions made for special circumstances like bad weather and power outages.

The change would allow the city to fine $30 for a first offense, $100 for a second and $100 more for each additional offense in a year. With City Council approval Friday and Mayor R.T. Rybak’s signature, the ordinance would take effect as soon as April 23.

Along with the first-time $30 educational fee, residents are registered with the city and supplied with educational materials to help prevent future false alarms.

University police have also expressed concerns regarding false alarms. Alarms involving on-campus facilities are processed directly through the on-campus department.

University Police Deputy Chief Steve Johnson said it is an “issue,” and the department just started tracking the frequency of false alarms on campus.

“False alarms for any police department are draining resources that could be better used,” Johnson said.

“People begin to change behavior after they’re held accountable,” Ricardo Cervantes, deputy director of Licenses and Consumer Services for the city, said.

First Ward Councilman Paul Ostrow said offenders, not taxpayers, should pay the costs, which the city expects will be $758,637 this year alone.

“This is an expense from a system that should be borne by those that have the system,” he said.

Opponents argue that the increased fines are unfair to first-time offenders. They also argue that residents might avoid fines by turning off their alarm systems.

With some security systems, business owners must call in the false alarm to police authorities. Increased fines could make business owners more hesitant to place those calls.

Purple Onion Café manager Pat Weinberg was skeptical of the plan. He said that the city needs to focus on people who are constantly breaking into places, rather than those reporting crimes.

“Now they’re going to start penalizing us, and what we’re going to do is stop calling them and take it into our own hands,” he said. “Well, that’s my opinion, at least.”