Suffolk’s False Alarm Program Getting Second Look

By Janee Law

Suffolk lawmakers may amend the county law that will allow the Suffolk Police Department to fine residents and business owners whose burglar alarms are falsely triggered starting June 1.

The alarm management program requires residents and commercial business owners to register their alarm system with Suffolk police and pay an annual registration fee of $50 for residences and $100 for businesses. Registration is slated to open on April 1.

Whether or not alarm systems are registered, residents and business owners are subject to fines if police respond to a false alarm. The fines increase on a per-offense basis and can go up to $500 for registered residences and business. For unregistered residences fines can reach $500 and for unregistered businesses fines can reach $750.

The first two offenses at registered locations will draw a written warning without a fine.

A proposal by Suffolk Legislator Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) to cut program registration fees from $50 to $25 for residential alarms and $100 to $50 for commercial businesses is pending.

Browning said that since the program has generated public attention she hopes the Suffolk Legislature will address concerns regarding the annual cost of registration.

“After listening to some of their thoughts about it, I’m tabling the bill Friday so we can have some more conversation and address their concerns,” Browning said on Monday.

Browning said she is not against the fine structure, but wants to eliminate the annual registration cost to make it a one-time registration fee. She said if the amendment is approved it would go into effect in 2017.

The program is being initiated by Suffolk County because the “Suffolk County Police Department responded to 97,000 false alarms in 2015 consuming over 32,000 patrol hours, diverting officers and resources from real emergencies,” stated Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who budgeted $7.3 million in expected revenue from the program in this year’s budget.

Added Suffolk County Police Chief Stuart Cameron, “That’s time we can have our officers working on the heroin problem, the gang problem, getting guns off our streets and working on traffic issues to reduce the number of fatal car accidents, which to me is far more important than responding to false alarms.”

Suffolk County Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said that although it isn’t an easy decision to “impose any additional cost on our hard working taxpayers,” this program could “decrease the occurrence of false alarms.” The Legislature approved the program 12-6 in December 2015 as part of the budget process.

In the program’s current state, alarm companies will operate as they usually do, said Larry Huff, vice president of Huntington Station-based Electronix Systems Central Station Alarms.

Huff said police will be dispatched if there is no answer when alarm companies contact residents or if they can’t verify who they contact. Police will not know if it’s a false alarm until they arrive on the premises.

He said he doesn’t believe Suffolk’s program will “address the false alarm issue.”

“We just felt that there could have been better alternatives than to start penalizing and financially penalizing the users of the alarm.”

Huff suggested customers make use of “two call verification, which basically requires the central station to try to reach the customers on two different numbers before sending the police.”

Public opinion on the program has been mixed, said June Margolin, president of Huntington Matters.

“The problem comes out of taxpayers one end or the other. It either comes out of us by paying for the false alarm calls or it’s going to cost us by getting fined on the other side of it,” she said. “We just have to see how it unfolds.”