Board Approves Fines for False Alarms in Unincorporated Areas

Taylor Martinez

RIVERSIDE (CNS) – The Board of Supervisors Tuesday formally approved imposing fines on Riverside County residents and businesses using fire, burglar and other alarms that are repeatedly triggered in unincorporated communities without justification, tying up first responders.

The “False Alarm Ordinance” was adopted on a unanimous vote and will take effect in 30 days.

The measure had been discussed in previous years, but the board never reached the point of actually voting to enact it. The ordinance is a result of lengthy research by the county sheriff’s and fire departments, as well as the Office of County Counsel.

“False alarms consume public safety resources and can increase response times for legitimate emergencies,” according to an Executive Office statement. “A false alarm ordinance could reduce the number of false alarms and the time spent responding to them.”

The measure draws from provisions contained in similar ordinances on the books in the cities of Corona, Lake Elsinore, Moreno Valley, Murrieta, Palm Springs and Riverside.

“This is something we’ve seen a lot of,” Supervisor Jeff Hewitt said when the proposal came before the board last month. “It’s a tricky one, so we’ll see how it works. Hopefully it doesn’t end up making things cost too much (for businesses and other alarm users).”

Data compiled for the board showed that in 2016, sheriff’s deputies were sent to investigate 15,172 alarm calls in unincorporated communities, and of those, 13,461 — 88% — were determined to be false, while 1,674 were canceled before deputies reached the scene. Only 37 alarms were verified as requiring immediate attention.

The fire department did not provide composite numbers on calls, but noted that in 2017, crews were dispatched to 2,662 false alarms.

Under the ordinance, any time deputies or firefighters go to a call and determine the alarm to be false, the person or entity whose home or business caused the alarm will receive a written warning. A second call for the same reason will result in a warning that a penalty will be assessed if there is a third call.

A third false alarm will mean a fine of $50. A fourth call will lead to a fine of $100, a fifth call $150, and for every call after that — $200. The penalties will part of the county’s anti-public nuisance code.

Recipients of fines will be entitled to an appeals process, initially via an “Alarm Appeals Officer,” and after that, the courts.

If an alarm company’s faulty system is found to be the cause of the alarms, it, too, could be held liable.

The ordinance also specifies that all audible security alarms have an automatic deactivation feature that makes them stop sounding after 15 minutes, and it contains a provision mandating that companies make at least two attempts to contact the property owner or alarm user before notifying law enforcement of the alarm.

In 1996, the county established an ordinance seeking to fine alarm companies for false activations, but several providers sued, and the ordinance was nullified. The current ordinance has been court-tested thanks to municipalities passing their own regulations, all of which have withstood scrutiny.

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