In an effort to reduce the thousands of unwarranted alarm calls that the fire department responds to each year, the Los Angeles City Council is advancing a proposal to develop a program and fee structure that would charge home and business owners for the cost of responding to a scene when there is no emergency.
The Los Angeles Fire Department responds to about 25,000 automatic alarms annually, and about 12,000 are deemed false or unwanted, according to LAFD statistics. A false alarm is classified by the department as a malicious alarm, which is currently a misdemeanor, whereas an unwanted alarm is caused by system malfunction or incorrect installation.
Thousands of unwanted alarms per year send fire trucks out into city streets, according to Councilman Mitchell Englander, who introduced the motion seeking the few fees.
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"These are often repeat offenders at the same locations, many of them commercial places, that often go off regularly," Englander said.
On a 14-0 vote Tuesday, the council approved a report from the Office of the City Administrative Officer which outlines the steps needed to establish the system, including the requirement for a new ordinance. The report also noted that the Los Angeles Police Department has an alarm fee program on which the fire program could be modeled.
The LAPD receives about 54,000 false alarm calls annually and generates more than $11 million a year in revenue from permits and false alarm fees, according to the CAO report. Through its program, the number of false alarm calls has been reduced from a high of 145,000 in 2009 to 54,000 in 2017.
The report recommended a fee of $172 for a 15-minute on-scene response time for the LAFD, or $343 for a 30-minute response time, along with a $48 permit fee. The permit would help the LAFD capture the names, addresses and other related information of all alarm users in the city, the report said.
The LAPD program includes an "alarm school" which allows permit-holding alarm system users who have experienced a false burglar alarm activation to complete an online or mail-in study course instead of paying one false alarm charge. That option will also be incorporated into the LAFD program, according to the report.