The Edmonton Police Service is looking for feedback on a proposal to levy a new $15-per-year fee against anyone registering a home security system.
The fee is intended to help reduce the number of false alarms to which police are dispatched.
“Each year, the EPS receives more than 6,300 alarm calls for service, of which 98 per cent are false alarms,” reads a letter sent to 15,000 alarm permit holders by police.
Police say that many false calls puts a strain on resources.
Three years ago, police created a new verification system. After an alarm sounded, someone would call the homeowner to verify the alarm’s authenticity. The EPS website says the new measures have “significantly reduced the number of dispatched false alarms.” But the new letter says the practice also led to problems.
“Alarm permits have no expiry date. As a result, contact information for the permit holder and/or the associated key holders become out of date, making it difficult for police to reach a home or business owner to verify the emergency.”
The new annual fee would require alarm owners to re-register every year, keeping contact information current.
Currently, homeowners pay a one-time $30 alarm registration fee. They then pay $75 for every false alarm police respond to.
The letter suggests the new $15 annual fee would be in addition to the $30 one-time charge, but a first false alarm would be free. Every subsequent false alarm would be subject to an increasing fine amount.
At the moment, police are only looking for feedback on the idea. The letter says a more formal proposal will be presented to Edmonton City Council this fall.
Edmonton police have not been available to answer questions on the plan.
City councillor Sarah Hamilton, who also sits on the police commission, says false alarms are a significant issue for police.
“There is a cost to false alarms,” said Hamilton, who added that it’s important to ask, “What’s the best way to do deal with this cost?”
Hamilton has questions. She wants to know how many home alarm users there are, how many times police are actually deployed to false alarms and how much that is costing the service.
Ultimately, city council must approve any new fee charged to alarm system owners.
“In order to bring in that kind of fee for service, you’d like to know there’s been an impact on the service being provided to Edmontonians.”
An annual municipal alarm fee isn’t that unusual. Calgary adopted its own $15 per year fee in 2017. It also required police to contact a homeowner after an alarm was tripped before dispatching an officer.
Following those changes, Calgary saw a 54 per cent decrease in false alarm calls compared to the same period in 2015.
Tony Miraglia has had an alarm for the last 20 years. It gives him peace of mind, even though there has never been an occasion when it was actually needed.
Miraglia says he’s fine with a new fee and that $15 every year isn’t that much.
“I can understand,” he said. “They just want to change the behaviour of people who have got these things and to pay more attention to what they’ve got.”
Police are asking the public if the proposed $15 per year fee is reasonable and if there’s a better way for the EPS to keep its alarm-related contact information up to date.