MERIDEN — At a meeting this week, most residents were opposed to proposed new fees when police respond to false security alarms.
Police Chief Jeffry Cossette’s plan would allow homes and businesses one “free” false alarm. The current policy allows four responses without a fee, then charges $25 for each subsequent false alarm.
The new plan would set the fee for a second false alarm at $25, and the fee would increase by $25 for every false alarm after that until the fifth and sixth alarms, which would be $100 each. Charges for the seventh and subsequent alarms would be $250 each. There would also be a $25 fee for registering security systems.
“Our main goal here isn’t to collect revenue but to gain compliance,” Cossette said at Tuesday’s meeting of the City Council’s public safety committee. “It’s a lot like a parking ticket: if there’s no fee attached, you’ll have people parking all over the place.”
According to data provided by Cossette, the police department responded to 2,061 alarms between May 1, 2012, and May 1, 2013, and 97 percent of them were false alarms. The ratio has been similar in other years.
Two officers typically respond to home alarms. The officers spend about 40 minutes at the scene, which adds up to 1,824 hours a year — approximately the total hours worked a year by one officer.
“We’re looking to free up officers’ time by not responding to so many of these false alarms,” Cossette said.
Residents and councilors who spoke Tuesday, however, were concerned with the financial burden.
Resident Tom Fitzgibbons said there is an alarm system “learning curve,” that could prove costly.
“I recently installed one (an alarm system) myself,” Fitzgibbons said. “Since then, my wife’s set it off once and I’ve done it twice. That’s three times in the first three or four weeks we’ve had it. Starting everyone off with a $25 fee for the first time, especially for someone who’s just had it installed, seems really excessive.”
Another resident, Susan Niemczyk, said the proposed fee schedule would discourage future homeowners and businesses from moving to Meriden.
“Do any of the surrounding towns have this?” she asked. “If they don’t, then guess where businesses and homeowners are going. Not here, where they’ll be fined so excessively.”
Cossette said Hamden and Cheshire offer two free false alarms, compared to Meriden’s four. Their fees for each subsequent false alarm are also significantly higher than Meriden’s proposal. New Britain and New Haven offer residents a single free false alarm, while Manchester offers none, according to Cossette.
The public safety committee agreed to postpone a final vote on the proposal until more information about how surrounding municipalities deal with alarm system registration, adding that it wasn’t likely any change to Meriden’s ordinance would occur until “at least the summer.”
Bank panic buttons as well as medical alarms are exempt from both the standing city ordinance and the new proposal.