City of Kent plans for security alarm modifications

Yelena Tischenko

With the increase in frequency of false alarms, the city of Kent has plans to modify their currently outdated security-alarm ordinance.

For the past 20 years, the police department has been using the same alarm receipt panel that is now obsolete. However, it did enable any business to directly connect to the police station with equipment that they would have installed.

“The technology changed a lot and we did look into updating it,” safety director Bill Lillich said. “We found that the expense would have been over $30,000.”

Lillich said they found that with the explosive expansion of the alarm and security industry, many businesses and private individuals were putting them into their homes and businesses. Individuals dealt directly with vendors, connecting their equipment to a monitoring center that would then notify the local jurisdiction in the event of fire or other emergency.

“We only had about a half a dozen or so people who were directly connected to the police department and the rest of them were calling the dispatchers when there was an emergency,” Lillich said.

According to the Police Emergency Alarms: 559.03 ordinance, every alarm user in the city must register each alarm system in use with the Emergency Communications Center. They must provide the name, address and telephone number of the business or home it is installed in, as well as the alarm company that installed the alarm system.

Lillich and Police Chief Michelle Lee knew they had to get a lot of the dated technological descriptions out of the ordinance. At the same time, with the expansion of the alarms, the frequency of false alarms was increasing dramatically.

“For years we’ve seen a large increase in the amount of false alarms that we’ve been responding to,” Chief Lee said. “It greatly affects the fire department because if the police department responds to something, we’re already in our cruisers. With the fire department, they have additional personnel and equipment. All that takes time, energy and money. We were just looking for an easier way to relieve the fire department of some of those responses.”

The ordinance permitted two false alarms per month and the first offense was $25. They increased for the penalty for false alarms after the first two from $25 to $50, but it would also compound with every one after that. According to the 559.04 section of the ordinance, the finance director will give five days notice by mail to pay the amount.

“As the sophistication and quality of systems improved, we recognized that all that did was give our people mostly extra, unnecessary and dangerous work,” Lillich said.

“We were finding that way will get people more intensive for the quality of the system, how its operated and hold their vendors accountable to that standard. It had been $25 and when you look at how old it is, $50 was a reasonable increase and will get someone’s attention and not going to break the bank.”

Kent State is one of the department’s biggest alarm sources. Lillich said they didn’t apply the financial penalty to the university due to the cooperative relationship between the university and the city.

However, with more than 200 alarms generated last year from the university, many of those alarms were from bad design or carelessness. In some cases, the department found that the heat sensor was right above the microwave in the dormitories. Lillich estimated that the cost of equipment leaving the station to respond to a false alarm is $1,156.

“It doesn’t accomplish anything for them except that it makes people think too casually about the fire alarm going off,” he said. “It becomes a concern for safety and we’re attacking all of these things by making these changes and encouraging improvement in operations.”

A newly changed caveat in the ordinance will say the university has to manage so many false alarms and the departments don’t expect overnight results. If they come up with a plan, it’ll give the university a buffer to manage those plans. The hope is to reduce the frequency of false alarms.

“I see us reducing the responses as well and making businesses and schools a little more responsive to the false alarms they have,” Chief Lee said. “I’m sure it’s just tightening up the organization, rules and policies, so overall I see it to be a good thing for everybody.”

Yelena Tischenko is a city reporter for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact Yelena Tischenko at [email protected].