(Gregory Hirst, Oil City News)

CASPER, Wyo. — With the number of false private alarms leading to wasted officer response efforts, the Casper Police Department is asking the City Council to consider a new ordinance aiming to cut down on the problem.

False alarms were up 45% year-to-date compared with the same period in 2021, according to a Sept. 20 memo from Casper Police Chief Keith McPheeters.

“On average, the Casper Police Department responds to approximately 1,200 private intrusion alarms a year,” McPheeters wrote. “These calls for police response require a minimum of two officers, in addition to occupying the time and concentration of multiple dispatchers as well.

“Despite these public safety efforts and the necessary allocation of these resources, 99.2% of all private intrusion alarms are later determined to be ‘false.’ Since 2017, the Patrol Division of the Casper Police Department has devoted an estimated 3,169 hours responding to false alarms.”

In addition to private intrusion alarms, the department responds to “hold-up” or “panic” alarms. These are push-button alarm systems intended to be used only in cases where someone is facing a threat of violence, McPheeters told the City Council on Tuesday.

The Casper PD responded to 133 such panic alarms in 2021. 91% of those calls were later determined to have been made in error, and McPheeters told the City Council a review of all the panic alarm calls couldn’t find a single instance where an actual life-threatening emergency was developing. In instances where people pressing the alarms may have felt there was the possibility of imminent risk even though that didn’t pan out, the review didn’t consider those in error.

Many of the erroneous panic alarms likely stem from employees either accidentally pressing single-button alarms while conducting tasks like stocking shelves or from employees not being trained as to the function of a button and pressing it out of curiosity, McPheeters said.

McPheeters presented to the City Council regarding false alarm issues in the spring, calling for possible changes to modify Casper regulations to incentivize alarm users to address issues leading to false alarms. Since that time, the police department has held stakeholder meetings with alarm system businesses and businesses that rely on alarm systems with the goal of updating ordinances in a manner that works for business and industry while simultaneously reducing the amount of wasted police time, McPheeters said Tuesday.

Stakeholders and the police department looked at peer-reviewed research that suggested it is not the majority of alarm system users who are the problem but rather a small percentage of users that lead to repeated false alarms, McPheeters said. Research the group looked at recommended against giving too much leniency to such entities where repeat false alarms originate, the police chief added.

The Casper PD and the stakeholders it worked with also looked at an International Association of Chiefs of Police recommended ordinance developed with input from the alarm industry, McPheeters said.

That ordinance was used as a model with some modifications aimed at making it fit for Casper for a proposed replacement of current ordinances.

The proposed ordinance would establish civil fees if two false private alarms in a calendar year originate from a single alarm user. The proposed fee schedule is as follows regarding false private intrusion alarms:

  • Third false alarm: $75
  • Fourth false alarm: $150
  • Fifth false alarm: $250
  • Sixth and subsequent false alarms: $500

If eight or more false private intrusion alarms happen in a year, the alarm user could be placed on a “no response” list under the proposed ordinance. Officers would not respond to alarms if a user is on this list. In order to be removed from the list, the alarm user would need to pay a $25 reinstatement fee, demonstrate proactive measures implemented to prevent future false alarms in writing and receive certification from an alarm installation company that the system is properly functioning.

For panic alarms, users would only be allowed one false alarm per year before fees would kick in. The fees for false panic alarms would be as follows:

  • Second false alarm: $250
  • Third false alarm: $500
  • Fourth and subsequent false alarms: $750

A no response list would not apply to excessive panic alarms, meaning law enforcement would still respond even if an excessive number of such instances were to occur, McPheeters noted. The proposed ordinance would require panic alarm users to rely on two-button rather than one-button systems to cut down on accidental activation, he added.

The proposed ordinance would also require both commercial and residential alarm system users to register their systems with the city and pay an annual fee of $25. McPheeters noted that this would only apply to systems that notify dispatch when a possible intrusion occurs. Registration and fees would not apply to systems that only notify homeowners on their own phones of a disturbance at their properties.

Alarm companies would be required to obtain a $100 annual permit from the city.

While several City Council members asked about how the ordinance will impact residential alarm system owners, McPheeters said the primary purpose of the proposal is to deal with businesses where the majority of false alarms originate.

After McPheeters presented on Tuesday, the City Council indicated it is OK with city staff bringing the proposed ordinance up for first reading during a regular meeting. Ordinance changes require three separate readings and votes during regular council meetings.

The full draft ordinance is attached to McPheeters’s memo, available for review below: