Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo said the number of false alarms is 'staggering' but she disagreed with adding another fee to homeowners who have security systems.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Police Department is looking to crack down on false burglar alarms.
Chief Information Officer Mike Steben said officers responded to 1,670 false alarm calls in 2017.
Each response requires two officers and Steben said the majority of those calls are from businesses, and many are repeat offenders -- so much so he said, "We have a couple businesses we should just park a police cruiser there in front of them when they open."
He estimated a count of 45 repeat offenders, and not just repeating once or twice.
"On average, we're responding to roughly six false alarm calls per day in this city. That requires two officers to be dispatched," Steben said.
Steben and Police Lt. Michael Maddalena are proposing a change to the ordinance requiring businesses to register every year and looking to actually charge businesses for false alarms. Maddalena said there is already a fine structure in place for false alarms but for years the city couldn't collect the fines.
Steben said the Police Department's computer systems for fines was not connected to the city's treasury computer systems. There was no way for the treasurer and tax collector's office to create an invoice so, the department stopped issuing fines.
The city recently combined the information technology departments for the city and police.
"Now that we've got the foundation built for the IT system, it is time to now get these systems integrated properly," Steben said.
Had the technology been integrated, Steben said the city would have reeled in $489,975 worth of fines in the last five years. Now with that system in place, the department is looking to recraft the false alarm ordinance to make sure its records are up to date.
The proposal put forth to the City Council calls for businesses and residents with alarms to register with the city on an annual basis whereas before it was just once. Maddalena said often officers respond and the business has since moved and there is no contact for a keyholder at the location. He believes an annual registration process would help keep that information up to date.
However, the city councilors on the Ordinance & Rules Committee had reservations about a proposed $50 registration fee. Previously there was just a one-time $25 fee. Councilors said instituting an annual fee won't help the number of false alarm calls and instead just cost a resident or business more each year.
"I have a hard time with the idea of having a registration fee every year," said Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers. "I understand the need for the registration to keep records correct ... but attaching $50 fee, then I have a problem with it."
Steben said that can easily be revisited. He said other municipalities charge anywhere from nothing to $75. He said he'd do a little more research to determine what an appropriate number would be for registration.
"This is something we are researching and going through," Steben said.
Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo suggested that once the new registration process is in place that the department essentially start over. He suggested sending a letter to all of the registered businesses and if those letters go unreturned, then they'd be dropped from the list and have to re-register.
Steben added that he'd like to move to a web-based registration process to make it easier for businesses and residents to stay up to date.
The committee ultimately tabled it until a new annual fee could be proposed.
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