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False alarms divide Greensboro council

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Alarms chart

Greensboro Police Chief Ken Miller said requiring registration, along with new fines, may help the city cut down on the high number of false alarms.

But the City Council is split on the idea, with some members worrying that any database of alarm systems would be incomplete, inaccurate and a waste of resources to maintain.

Last year, the Greensboro Police Department responded to 18,310 calls related to alarm systems, according to police records. All but 47 calls were false alarms, which cost the department about $3 million.

“A registration process is considered a best practice, not just in other cities but with reputable alarm companies themselves,” Miller told the council at a work session last week.

Council members will discuss the issue again at a meeting this afternoon.

“Most cities charge between $10 and $25 to register, either annually or one time. But even if there’s no charge, it causes the alarm holder to update their contact information annually, and that’s very helpful to us,” Miller said.

Registration would be online and voluntary, Miller said, but owners who didn’t register would be fined if the police were called to their property as the result of an unregistered alarm.

Alarm companies contact the police when an alarm goes off, the chief said, but they are bad about sharing their clients’ contact information with police. That information would help when officers are responding to alarm calls and could help prevent them from responding to some false alarms, he said. Fewer false alarm calls would free up officers to respond to genuine emergencies, Miller said.

Miller said his department also would like to require alarm companies to make two contacts — a verification with the alarm owner and a second point of authority whom the owner designates — before police respond.

Mayor Nancy Vaughan and council members Nancy Hoffmann, Zack Matheny and Mike Barber said they support a database of alarm holders.

“If it saves 10 percent of the calls, then that helps our boots on the ground. It helps our neighborhood community policing we’re trying to implement. I think it’s worth doing,” Matheny said.

But council members Jamal Fox, Tony Wilkins, Sharon Hightower and Yvonne Johnson said they don’t support the idea.

Wilkins said he doesn’t believe a database, with owners registering voluntarily, could be kept accurately.

And though Miller said the police department could maintain a database using existing resources, Wilkins said he is skeptical that any cost incurred to keep the files would be justified in the end.

“Grandma just got an alarm because I put it there for her safety,” Hightower said. “She’s not going to go online and register it.”

Johnson wasn’t present at the work session but said in an interview this week that she won’t support the database.

Councilwoman Marikay Abuzuaiter said she is undecided on the issue.

Contact Joe Killian at (336) 313-1023 and follow @JoeKillianNR on Twitter.

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