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New alarm fee could give police a secure feeling

Committee forwards idea to council

Dec. 14, 2011

The owners of Wauwatosa homes and businesses equipped with alarms may be required register their security systems and pay a $20 annual fee starting in January.

The Budget and Finance Committee on Tuesday voted 5-1 to support instituting the new fee.

City officials say it's an effort to provide better safety for residents and officers who don't know what they'll find each time they respond to one of the nearly 1,000 security alarms triggered within the city each year.

"Keeping our people safe to me supercedes the $20," Alderman Tim Hanson said. "They can choose to pay that fee because they chose to have an alarm."

The need for more info

Unlike a 911 call, in which people often are able to give detailed information, the city has little information to work from when an alarm is sounded.

Alarmed properties generally receive a higher level of service than properties that don't have them. For any alarm, at least two patrols cars respond, Chief Barry Weber said.

Without a registry, Police Capt. Dale Weiss said that under existing procedures, police officers will leave if, after 30 minutes, there is no contact with a keyholder and there seems to be no criminal activity.

There's always a feeling of "are we sure we should be leaving, Weiss said, adding that up-to-date information such as the security alarm company and property owner's contact information and whether neighbors have keys can help make a safer judgment.

In addition, the knowledge of whether a dog is on the property can provide some safe warning to the responding officers.

Implementing and using fee

The fee and the anticipated $25,000 revenue, which officials said will cover city staff time to get the registry started, were included in the 2012 budget. However, city staff realized the city needed an ordinance to collect the fee - a fact that was overlooked until after police sent out a letter to about 1,700 alarmed properties.

Following the Jan. 31 registration and fee deadline, police will continue to respond to all alarms. However, unregistered properties will be subject to a $50 late fee as well as a possible false alarm fee already on the city's books.

"We know there are a lot more alarm systems out there that aren't registered in anyway," Weiss said.

Alarms, whether connected to a security system or just make noise when triggered, must be registered, Weiss said.

Merely an added cost?

Rich Lochrie, owner of a Village business and a local home, said the city should provide incentives.

"You want more people with more alarms," he said, adding that he installed alarms following break-ins.

Paying for a security system is not cheap and police fees just add to the cost, Lochrie said.

Alderwoman Cheryl Berdan, the only dissenter on the committee, saw the benefit of the registry to property owners and law enforcement, but she was having trouble making it a requirement. Many people would voluntarily provide the information to improve safety but there is also a privacy factor that goes with security, she said.

The issue must go to the entire Common Council for final approval before any fees are collected.

Next step

WHAT: The Common Council will vote on whether to charge $20 registration fee to each Wauwatosa property owner that has a security system.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: City Hall, 7725 W. North Ave.

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