MPD, city council wants stiffer punishment for false alarm calls

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - The city of Memphis is looking to dish out harsher punishments for repeated false police or fire alarm calls.

City council members and Memphis police both said false alarm calls in Memphis are out of control, tying up money and man power at a time when the police department is critically understaffed by hundreds of officers.

"It is a problem and we've got to address it," council member Philip Spinosa, Jr. said.

Tuesday, Spinosa rolled out a fact sheet from MPD with his proposed changes to the alarm ordinance.

Police reports state burglar alarms make up 7.7 percent of MPD's calls—but 99.2 percent of those calls are false.

Police spend nearly 64,000 hours yearly responding to the calls. This translates to $1.7 million in lost labor for MPD—the equivalent of 31 officers.

"It puts more manpower on the street," MPD Deputy Director Mike Ryall said.

Right now, the city gives citizens a leeway of three false alarm calls. For the fourth one, they receive a $25 fine, and their permit gets taken away after the eighth incident.

The proposed changes will increase the fine to $50 on the third false alarm, and will add an additional service fee of $90 for police and $250 for fire response for the third false alarm and each one after that.

"Alarm companies, when they get an alarm, they call in and it adds to our manpower load," Memphis City COO Doug McGowen said.

The alarm proposal comes as the city is working to cut 911 call answering times.

Officials said they have trimmed the time of 911 calls by an average of one minute in December 2015 to just under 14 seconds last month.

"All of it matters, and it's going to help," McGowen said.

Council members want to increase the alarm registration fee by $5. Commercial users would also be required to verify an alarm was valid before police are sent out.

The alarm proposal passed through committee and will be taken up by the full council.

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