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October 13, 2003 // UPDATED 11:05 am - April 30, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

False burglar alarms will bring bigger fines, quicker cut-offs

The city of Minneapolis is increasing the false alarm fees for burglar and holdup alarms, an effort to reduce the staff drain that errant alarms cause.

James Moncur, director of licensing and consumer services, said the city had responded to approximately 8,500 false alarms by Oct. 1. He estimated that false alarm responses tie up the equivalent of eight full-time employees.

"You have to look at this as the continuing effort the city has been on for years now to reduce the number of false alarms that take up a lot of police and administrative time as well," Moncur said.

The city charges alarm owners a penalty if they have too many false alarms. The City Council passed the ordinance Oct. 10, 12-0.

Under the existing ordinance, the city fined alarm holders if they had four or more false alarms in a calendar year. It charged $100 for the fourth false alarm and added $50 to each subsequent alarm, so the fifth false alarm cost $150, the sixth $200, and so on.

Under an ordinance pushed by City Councilmember Dan Niziolek (10th Ward), the city would charge alarm owners $200 on their third false alarm in a calendar year, and add on $100 for each subsequent false alarm that year, such that the fifth offense would cost $400.

The new ordinance also gives alarm owners fewer false alarms before the Police Department can discontinue automatic alarm response.

Under the current ordinance, the police can discontinue automatic response -- for the remainder of the year -- after an address has had seven false alarms in one calendar year, or if the alarm holder is more than four months behind paying false alarm fines.

Under the new ordinance, the police can discontinue automatic alarm response after the fifth false alarm in a calendar year, or if the alarm holder is more than three months late in paying fines.

The police continue to respond to in-person calls for aid to the address or other information that verifies the need for immediate police response. Currently, the city has discontinued automatic alarm response to 88 addresses, Moncur said. The list of addresses is confidential.

"The cutting off of the service -- the automatic police response -- tends to get people's attention," Moncur said.

The Minnesota Burglar and Fire Alarm Association supports the changes, saying the industry is taking steps to improve the technology and alarm protocols to reduce false alarms, said Russ Ernst of Honeywell Home and Building Control, the association's past president. -- Scott Russell

City poised for quicker, pricier livability-crime penalties The city is poised to create two new nuisance crime ordinances, one that would make public urination illegal and another that would toughen charges for public possession of drug paraphernalia.

The new ordinances fit into city plans to better enforce livability crimes through a new administrative hearing process to be tested in Downtown's 1st Precinct.

You might think the city already charges public urinators and paraphernalia possessors -- and you would be right.

The city now charges paraphernalia possession as a petty misdemeanor, said Assistant City Attorney Scott Christenson. It carries a maximum penalty of a $300 fine.

The new ordinance would increase drug paraphernalia possession to a misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Misdemeanor offenders can also receive probation.

Neither the city nor the state has a law specifically prohibiting public urination, Christenson said. For years, the city has cited people on the more generic charges of disorderly conduct or indecent conduct, both of which are illegal under city code and state statute.

Yet disorderly conduct and indecent conduct did not accurately describe the conduct, Christenson said. It becomes a particular problem when city attorneys review a defendant's criminal history. The court files only show the charge, not the underlying crime.

The city attorneys see a disorderly conduct charge and they don't know if it is for a violent fistfight or for public urination, he said. They see an indecent conduct charge and it could be for flashing or public urination.

"It was hard to discriminate when you look at someone's history," Christenson said. "One of the purposes [of the new ordinance] was to clarify the conduct."

The attorneys could cull through police reports to find the underlying crime, but that adds research time when the Department is handling tens of thousands of cases a year, he said.

The City Council approved the pilot program Sept. 26, and it should be up and running later this year. The goal is to create more immediate consequences for livability crime offenses, such as public urination, rather than sending defendants through a clogged District Court system.

For Downtown offenses, police would be able to charge people under these and other nuisance crime ordinances, then take them through the new administrative hearing process, Christenson said. (Those charged outside of Downtown would still go through District Court.)

The city is tailoring the administrative hearing process to offenses that are not prohibited by state statute, Christenson said.

City Councilmember Dan Niziolek (10th Ward) introduced the ordinances. A public hearing is set for Wednesday, Oct. 15 in the Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee, which he chairs.

Niziolek did not return a phone call. -- Scott Russell