Like other communities, City may charge fee for costly false alarms

For the past three years, the Police Department has responded to an average of 858 false alarms per year. Of that number, approximately 300 are believed to be repeat offenders.

False alarms cost the city valuable money and time, so at its next meeting, council will revisit an ordinance to update its penalties and appeal process.

Chapter 8.10 of Mercer Island City Code was enacted in 1999 and hasn't been amended in many years. The hope is that small changes will not only reduce the number of false alarms but encourage Islanders to register their systems so that police have another point of connection should there be an emergency.

At a first reading of the ordinance on March 31, Operations Commander Leslie Burns said that most false alarms are a user issue, a homeowner or family member who isn't familiar with the system. Islanders, many of whom employ service staff like nannies, gardeners and housekeepers, may not adequately teach new employees how to use an alarm system. Other times, it's a system malfunction.

But regardless of the cause, at $35 a call, last year's false alarms cost the city an estimated $41,000 in dispatch fees.

Under the revisions, Islanders will get a “free pass” on their first false alarm, but be charged $50 a call from there on out. In most other cities, including Issaquah, Kirkland and Redmond, fines increase for repeat offenders.

Revisions will also clarify definitions, update the penalty schedule from six months to a year-long cycle and delete obsolete terms from the ordinance, like a reference to a false alarm user class that is no longer in operation. The appeal process would be amended so that repeat offenders could challenge their penalty by filing a notice of appeal with the city clerk.

Another possible revision is an exemption for seniors 62 years and older, though not every councilmember agreed with the clause. Burns explained that it was built in with the understanding that elderly may struggle with new technology.

Councilmember Mike Cero took issue with the department's registration process, saying that the information—the emails, cellphones or alternate contact information for homeowners—could be dangerous in the wrong hands.

The Council will hold a second reading on April 21.


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