By Janee Law
Suffolk’s alarm management program, which fines residents and business owners whose burglar alarms are falsely triggered, has resulted in decreased false alarm reports countywide, but one Suffolk legislator is seeking to mend the program’s policies to make it more lenient.
Registration began in April for the alarm management program, a joint effort between county officials and Suffolk police, and fines for falsely-triggered alarms began in June.
Since then, the Suffolk County Police Department has seen a “significant reduction” in false alarms, according to Suffolk Police Chief Stuart Cameron.
He said that 11,000 residential, and 3,900 commercial, alarm system permits have been filed with police. As part of the program, residents can purchase permits through their local precincts for $50, and business owners can purchase them for $100. A permit, which currently has to be renewed each year, grants some residents and business owners some leeway before they are fined for false alarms.
Whether or not alarm systems are registered, residents and business owners are subject to fines if police respond to false alarm. Currently, fines increase on a per-offense basis and can go up to $500 for registered residences and business. For residents who don’t register their alarm systems, fines can reach $500; and for unregistered businesses fines can reach $750.
False alarms at registered locations currently draw a written warning for the first two offenses. For unregistered locations, fines start immediately.
The program has resulted in a 34-percent decrease in residential false alarms from May 2016 to May 2015; and a 25-percent decrease from June 2016 to June 2015, according to Cameron. The ultimate goal is a reduction of between 50-70 percent, he added.
“False alarms are a waste of our time. There’s no productive value in sending officers to what turns out to be a false alarm,” Cameron said. “[The program] focuses people’s attention on their alarms and there is some consequences now to improperly managing.”
Vanessa Baird Streeter, a spokeswoman for the county, said in a statement emailed Tuesday that the alarm management program mimics “a successful model that has dramatically reduced false alarms in hundreds of jurisdictions, including Nassau.”
She continued, “False alarms are more than an inconvenience; they take up time and energy of emergency personnel who may be needed to respond to real emergencies.”
However, Suffolk Legislator Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) has renewed her efforts to amend the program’s policies. Browning has proposed to eliminate any renewal fees for residential property owners; give non-registered property owners a 30-day period for them to register without any penalties; increase the number of free false alarm warnings from two to three; and reduce the false alarm fees from the fourth, fifth and sixth false alarm thereafter.
Browning presented the bill during the legislature's July 26 meeting, and it’s set to go before the legislature’s public safety committee on Sept. 1.
The proposal is intended to benefit those individuals who aren’t part of the false alarm problem, according to Josh Slaughter, Browning’s chief of staff. Browning was not available for direct comment before deadline Monday.
“They shouldn’t be impacted and have to pay anything if they’re not causing any of the issues,” Slaughter said. “The bill will still allow the department to go ahead and fine properties where there’s consistent false alarms that drain department resources.”
The program has also had effects on burglar alarm companies, including Huntington Station-based Electronix Systems Central Station Alarms.
Larry Huff, vice president of Electronix, said nearly 20 of his clients removed their burglar alarm systems to avoid getting fined.
“The elderly and the younger generation don’t want to pay the permit fees so they’ve opted to eliminate monitoring altogether,” Huff said on Monday. “I don’t think there should’ve been a permit or a registration fee at all, neither commercially or residentially.”
Huff added that his company has taken steps to keep customers on board, including by reducing the company’s monitoring fees in an effort to offset permit costs.
Suffolk Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said on Monday that he is concerned residents and business owner will stop using alarm systems.
“They may not get a system that they could otherwise afford because of the additional requirements to register the bill, or because of the false alarms, and I think that could decrease public safety,” Spencer said. “It disproportionately impacts those who are in economically stressful situations.”