New Milford considers fines for false fire, burglary alarms
NEW MILFORD — The police department handles hundreds of burglary false alarms each year, but a new alarm ordinance could reduce that number.
The ordinance is similar to the fire alarm ordinance already in place and allows for fines to be issued for false alarms. But some council members worried this ordinance could affect residents’ safety, either by affecting emergency officials’ response to a call or leading business owners not to report potential break-ins.
New Milford established a burglar alarm ordinance in July 1981, but repealed it a few months later. A fire alarm ordinance was created in 2003.
Town Attorney Matt Grimes said the mayor will appoint administrators to oversee the fire and police false alarms. Alarms will have to be registered with the appropriate administrator who will use their discretion and the fee schedule to issue fines.
Under the proposed ordinance, no fine will be issued for the first alarm, but fines will increase for subsequent false alarms: $50 for two, $100 for three and $150 for four or more. The alarm tally applies for a 12-month period and the fire and police alarms are counted separately.
If a fine isn’t paid within 30 days, the alarm user may be placed on a “suspension-of-response” status.
Several council members questioned that penalty and worry that status could prevent first responders from answering alarm calls that could be real.
“It’s sometimes not a false alarm,” said Councilwoman Katy Francis.
Councilman Michael Nahom said he worries business owners might have the alarm company delay alerting the police until they can check it out first, which is dangerous.
“My fear is something not happening because of a fine,” he said.
Grimes said the burglary alarm ordinance was requested by police Lt. Jeffrey Covello.
“This has been a constant drain on the police department and diverts the efforts from what actually needs their attention,” Grimes said.
In 2016, the department received about 1,380 burglary alarms, of which two were burglaries. In 2017, those figures were about 1,510 and four, respectively, and so far in 2018 about 780 burglary alarms have been reported, of which two were burglaries, Grimes said.
An alarm appeals board will be set up if someone disagrees with the administrator’s decision.
Grimes said police officers can generally determine at the scene if a burglary alarm is false, while it might take a little longer to determine if there is a false fire alarm or something minor set it off, such as burning food.
“There’s usually a follow-up investigation from the fire department,” he said.
The public hearing was left open so council members can get more information. The issue is expected to be voted on at the next meeting.