Coding errors prompt city to drop $ 700 charge
The City of Manteca Tuesday determined coding errors led to Janis Music in downtown Manteca being erroneously billed $700 for a series of “false alarms” when actually there was criminal activity involved.
While the city quickly corrected the error, the grumblings about the city’s alarm policy may not go away anytime soon.
Critics have issues with the annual requirement to update alarm information — a critical component to allow Manteca Police to have current contact information when an alarm goes off — while others have been unhappy with how billing disputes over false alarms have been handled in the past.
The reason the false alarm policy and fine procedure exists is simple. Back in 2008, Manteca Police responded to 3,527 residential burglary alarms. Mechanical failure or owner error accounted for 98.7 percent of those calls and not criminal activity.
Each alarm response took an average of 18 minutes to respond, check the structure and contact the owner. Due to the nature of the calls it requires two officers. Manteca Police devoted 2,116 hours in 2008 responding to false alarms that took resources away from other calls as well as reduced proactive patrolling.
Instead of following the lead of some cities that addressed the problem by not having police respond to burglar alarms that are a contract between the alarm firm and the customers and not with any jurisdiction, the Manteca City Council took a different path. They opted to revamp Manteca’s ordinance dealing with false alarms.
The rules put in place in 2009 limited false alarms to two a year and not two a month. There is no charge for the first two responses. The third false response is $100, the fourth response is $200, and the fifth is $400 within a designated period.
In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2016, Manteca billed $117,600 for false alarms. The previous three year average was $121,900. All money collected goes into the city’s general fund.
The alarm permit comes with details on the owner’s responsibility and city policies plus provides police with contact information. There is no charge for the permit or to renew the information annually as the ordinance requires. Alarm permits expire on Dec. 31 of each year and must be renewed by no later than Jan. 31.
Before the ordinance was updated in 2009 there was no charge for not having an alarm permit or for the owner failing to respond. The ordinance now in effect charges $200 for no alarm permit and $100 if the owner fails to respond.
Although some complained to city officials at the time that is was simply a tactic to try and balance the municipal budget, that wasn’t the case.
It wasn’t as much about raising revenue – which was used as the stick to force compliance – as it was to free up limited resources.