The exasperation Canadian police services experience with alarm monitoring and the number of “false” calls is nothing new.
For many regions, the false alarm rate has been in the 90 percentile range for years — sometimes decades. The City of Kingston, Ont. recently held a stakeholder consultation meeting to go over proposed changes to the alarm installation and monitoring regulations in the municipal bylaw, many of which Kingston Police had a hand in recommending.
The amendments came about for two reasons, according to Greg McLean, policy and program co-ordinator with the Licensing and Enforcement department at the City of Kingston.
“The city is looking at a comprehensive review of our business licensing bylaw. It’s been 10-11 years since our bylaw was last looked at in extensive detail so we were looking at what changes, if any, would be beneficial,” McLean said. “At the same time, Kingston Police approached city staff with concerns over what they’re facing with false alarms. So the timing was right to put together a committee to look at this in more detail.”
Proposed changes entail shifting the fee structure. Currently, the first false alarm in a calendar year is free, followed by a gradual increase in fees for subsequent false alarms. This was to curb repeat offenders and motivate alarm companies to address these types of concerns, McLean noted.
“Our rate of 97 per cent of alarms being false has been like that for quite a while so that tells us that our current approach is not necessarily achieving its objective,” he added. “False alarm stats from the early 90s show between two and four per cent of calls being founded.”
McLean said when he first heard that figure, he thought, “Any percentage that high in any category, regardless of what service sector, is unacceptable. It’s draining resources from police that could be allocated more productively elsewhere.”
Now, the first false alarm will have a fee attached to it and each one after that will cost the same amount.
“Kingston Police analyzed what their costs are to respond to and process an alarm that turns out to be false and came up with an amount — $120 currently — so that amount is what we’re proposing for the first fee through to the fourth one,” McLean said. “We’re moving away from using the fee schedule as a deterrent or incentive to resolve false alarm situations. We’re putting more emphasis on the prospect that police response to alarm systems will be suspended on the fourth false alarm in a calendar year.”
McLean said a warning notice would go out after the third false alarm. He mentioned fees for failing to register an alarm system are also being proposed — something brand new for Kingston.
“This fee would then be double what it would have been if the alarm had been registered,” he explained.
Additionally, while the idea of a verified alarm monitoring system was tossed around, it has been left on the table for now. That doesn’t mean, though, the city and police are not preparing for the long-term.
“We’ve introduced that type of language — a verification process — into these amendments to the bylaw, so if it was implemented down the road, then that would be handled by way of a policy communication to alarm monitoring companies.”
The recent stakeholder meeting, which detailed these changes, saw around 30-plus alarm company representatives participate, according to McLean.
“We received lots of feedback and suggestions as well as concerns were expressed,” he said. “We’re taking that information and looking at it in combination with best practices from other municipalities and other police forces and how they administer and regulate alarm monitoring.”
Technology concerns were also raised at the meeting as self-monitoring systems begin to grow.
“We haven’t seen much of these yet — systems that property owners monitor themselves on their smartphone,” he said. “But we anticipate this may be adopted more widely. The concern was how would these property managers be treated compared to the monitoring companies. And they will be treated the same with the same fees, etc.”
These proposals will go before the standing committee before the end of the year, according to McLean. How it is received there will determine whether the amendments then go before city council — or head back to staff for more work.
“We are partnered with the city. Greg has been very good to accommodate our requests and we are looking forward to seeing an approval by council for the requested changes so we can move ahead,” said Scott Geoffrey, the director of information services at Kingston Police.