Every false alarm from a private security system takes two Merced police officers a minimum of 15 minutes to respond and investigate, city leaders have said.
"False alarms really consume a lot of police-services resources," Capt. Bimley West said. "We now have a vendor that will oversee the alarms that go off and process them in such a way it will free up our personnel."
Police commanders hope the new online system will help reduce false alarms by educating residents and businesses on security systems, according to a news release. The new system also will directly contact alarm customers to help determine whether an alarm is false.
Out of 4,447 alarm calls in 2016, 74.8 percent were false alarms, 3,326 calls, according to department data. In 2017, that rose to 3,686 out of 4,059 calls, about 90.8 percent. In the 2016-2017 fiscal year, the police department collected $48,625 in fees.
As of the end of June this year, 1,664 out of 1,809 alarm calls, or 92 percent, were bogus, according to the police department, which collected $65,400 in fees in the 2017-2018 fiscal year.
The bulk of false alarms came from residential homes, said Marvin Dillsaver, a communications supervisor who handles alarm permits for the police department.
As of Wednesday, the City of Merced had 2,901 active residential alarm permits, 917 active commercial or business alarm permits and 27 government building alarm permits, Dillsaver said.
The city has contracted with PM AM Corporation to create a "False Alarm Reduction Program," according to a news release.
As of July 1, residents, businesses and other organizations have been able to apply for a permit at http://www.FAMSpermit.com/Merced.
The city requires any entity with a security system to apply for a permit, which is free.
Anyone who applied for a permit before July 1 will automatically be rolled into the new system and can request a username and password.
When an alarm trips and sends the distress signal to 911, police dispatchers send the officers to the home, Dillsaver said. But if the resident or alarm company cancels the call before officers arrive, it's not considered a false alarm.
If it's a false alarm and the homeowner hasn't applied and received a permit, they can be fined $100, Dillsaver said. The same goes for a second false alarm. With a permit, the first two false alarms incur no fees.
For a third false alarm, a homeowner with no permit receives a $150 fine. It's a $50 fine for permit-holders, which is subject to a waiver if the homeowner takes a class.
For the fourth and fifth false alarms, it's a non-refundable $50 fee for permit-holders and $150 for non-permit holders. For any additional false alarm in a calendar year, it's $100 for permit holders and $200 for non-permit holders.
"We get false alarms for animals inside the residence that will activate motion sensors," Dillsaver said. "Sometimes, it's nothing more than a faulty sensor. We encourage alarm owners to get their alarms serviced once a year."
Whatever it is, the police officials are asking for residents to be more aware of their alarm systems and how false alarms drain department resources.
"We just hope we are going to get a better response from our citizens being responsible for alarms," West said.