CHAPEL HILL- Police officers and fire fighters have to respond to each and every security alarm in Chapel Hill, but the town’s high rate of false alarms costs the departments and taxpayers nearly $200,000 each year.
Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue told the Town Council on Monday that in just the past two months alone, more than 95 percent of the alarm calls his department has responded to have been accidental.
“Just between July 9 and September 4 of this year, the police department was dispatched to 567 total alarms. Only 25 of those turned out to be legitimate activations, so you can see the numbers speak for themselves there.”
Depending on the type of alarm, the standard response usually involves two police officers or as many as 10 firefighters, fully one half of the available fire personnel on duty at any given time. Each false alarm call typically takes about 20 minutes to resolve.
Blue said prior efforts to reduce the number of false alarms have not been successful.
“For a number of years we’ve talked to the business community and neighborhood groups about the issue and about our interest in reducing those accidental false alarms,” said Blue. “And I think the community gets it, but we have not been successful in reducing the numbers.”
Instead, Blue is proposing a graduated fee system for business or home owners whose security systems repeatedly trigger false alarms.
The interest there is not to generate revenue, although there is an interest in at least recovering some of our costs,” said Blue. “But we do know that other communities, when they have instituted a fee structure, have seen that as a more effective way to reduce activations than just sharing the problem with the community and appealing to them for their help.”
Chapel Hill Fire Chief Dan Jones told the council this fee would apply to calls from UNC campus, as those account for a significant number of false alarms.
“We do respond to the university and it’s a very high percentage,” said Jones. “The university is about 30 to 34 percent of our workload, and our false alarm rate is about 30 percent of that call volume.”
The exact fee system has yet to be determined, but Blue and Jones will return to the council with a proposal next month. The council will hold a public hearing on the proposed ordinance on October 28.