Town Council discusses future of alarm monitoring, false alarms

Paradise Valley Town Hall is at 6401 E. Lincoln Dr. (file photo)

Expansion may be coming to the Town of Paradise Valley’s alarm monitoring service.

The Paradise Valley Town Council had this discussion and received an update on the false alarm ordinance at its Thursday, April 25 meeting at Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive.

In regards to the alarm monitoring service, Police Chief Peter Wingert asked the council for direction on three topics: continuing the service, adding more subscribers and offering higher services.

In general, the majority of council expressed interest in expansion and requested more information on potential higher services. Mr. Wingert said he would gather more information regarding higher services and bring it back for a future study session item.

Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner, with the majority of council backing, told Mr. Wingert the council was interested in adding new subscribers.

“If someone comes in tomorrow and they say ‘I want to sign up,’ you’re getting direction from this council to give them the form, get it going,” Mr. Bien-Willner said.

Based on current staffing and resources, Mr. Wingert estimated his department could handle about 600 subscribers.

Current subscribers pay a monthly fee of $30-$50, which provides them a direct hard line to the Paradise Valley Police Department’s dispatch center for emergencies.

Subscribers to this service peaked at 610 in 2008 but have decreased 3-5% each year. Over the past five years, the town hasn’t accepted new subscribers.

In August 2018, the town transitioned 325 subscribers to Dynamark Monitoring Infrastructure. Since that time, the town reported 10 subscribers canceling service, seven of which were moves.

This transition occurred after a seven-day outage in early 2016 had the town operating on a temporary service until it found a better vendor.

Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner

At the time of transition, the town didn’t allow for new subscribers because the new system was unproven, Mr. Bien-Willner said. That had changed, which is why Mr. Bien-Willner said the topic resurfaced.

“In the realm of public safety in my opinion, and reasonable minds can differ, if there’s an opportunity to do something that’s unique and offers something that people want, I’d say lets be bold and once it’s proven, go for it,” Mr. Bien-Willner said.

In May 2017, the council revisited the topic, giving direction to staff to allow the subscriber base to shrink through natural attrition of subscribers.

Vice Mayor Scott Moore said he thinks the alarm system is beneficial to the town and residents appear to like it, otherwise they’d leave the system in droves.

“I’m not going to take away anything our residents want,” he said. “We are a unique town. We do a lot of concierge things in this town that other towns don’t do because they are larger.”

Councilwoman Ellen Andeen

While the majority of the council wanted to keep the service, councilmembers Paul Dembow and Ellen Andeen indicated they thought the program should end.

“This isn’t something I’ve just decided on a whim that I don’t support the alarm system,” Ms. Andeen said.

“It’s something I’ve wondered my whole entire life living (here) is why are we in the alarm business? And why are we still in the alarm business? If there’s additional information to be had, I talk to some residents so on and so forth and they want it, then I will … begin to support it.”

False alarms

Mr. Wingert also discussed the false alarm ordinance, which the town adopted in 2009. That adoption led to the permitting of alarm uses and fines for false alarms, leading to a 10% decrease in false alarms in 2010.

Peter Wingert.

In 2012, the town repealed the permitting section of the ordinance and in that same year, alarm assessments were no longer completed. By 2017, the town saw its highest number of false alarms in a 10-year period.

In response, the council gave direction in March 2018 for the town to enforce the ordinance as written, which led to a slight decrease in false alarms so far in 2019.

Mr. Wingert said his department’s proactive work since November 2018 has led to a decreased volume of re-occurrences.

“We had one, for example, in a six-month period, we had 33 false alarms at one address,” Mr. Wingert said.

“Our highest in the last six-month period has been nine at a different address. So the one that had 33 false alarms during that six-month period, in the most recent six-month period had six. So it’s been very productive in reducing the re-occurrences.”

Mr. Wingert did offer some concerns he had with the ordinance. He was concerned with how the Town Manager’s Office handles appeals when he thinks the town manager has better work to do. Mr. Wingert did say the office hasn’t had any appeals yet.

He was also concerned of the ordinance not having a confidentiality clause. This has led, Mr. Wingert said, alarm vendors to not share contact information with the police department.

Mr. Wingert would also like to a clean up of the assessment collection portion of the code to align with current processes.

To wrap up, Mr. Wingert said false alarms can be a drain on his department but even with a slight decrease, his officers are free to do more tasks elsewhere in the town.

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