The Board of Supervisors Tuesday directed staff to draft an ordinance establishing penalties for businesses in unincorporated communities that repeatedly trigger false alarms to which fire and sheriff’s personnel respond, wasting time and resources.

In a 5-0 vote without comment, the board gave the Executive Office — working in concert with sheriff’s and fire department officials — 90 days to create a measure replicating others already in place in surrounding jurisdictions.

“False alarms consume public safety resources and can increase response times for legitimate emergencies,” according to a joint statement by Supervisors Kevin Jeffries and V. Manuel Perez posted to the board’s agenda. “A false alarm ordinance could reduce the number of false alarms and the time spent responding to them.”

The board last looked at the possibility of an ordinance in December 2012, after it was revealed that in 2011 county firefighters had been diverted to 2,110 false alarm calls, averaging six per day. Without explanation, staff at the Office of Emergency Services never acted on the board’s request for a framework around which to create a future ordinance.

According to Jeffries and Perez, in May 1996 the county enacted an ordinance authorizing the sheriff’s department to bill alarm companies for every call to which deputies had to respond — even the bona fide ones. There was also a stipulation that companies be fined for false alarms. However, the measure was nullified a year later, following a court challenge by an alarm company association.

Jeffries and Perez said that since that time, other jurisdictions have passed ordinances imposing fines for false alarms, and those acts have been validated by the courts.

According to statistics posted to the board’s agenda, in 2016 sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to 15,172 alarm calls in unincorporated areas. Of those, only 37 were legitimate, while 1,674 calls were terminated prior to deputies’ arrival.

County fire officials said that in 2017, firefighters were sent to 2,662 false alarms.

The cities of Corona, Lake Elsinore, Moreno Valley, Murrieta, Palm Springs and Riverside have ordinances that set fines for false alarms.

The city of Riverside’s measure mandates that any party responsible for more than two false alarms to which the fire or police departments respond pay a $100 fine. Penalties go up in $50 increments for each additional false alarm call.

Jeffries and Perez said the county’s proposed ordinance should “focus enforcement on alarm companies, rather than residents.”

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