San Francisco’s Police Emergency Alarm Ordinance

The City and County of San Francisco’s Police Emergency Alarm Ordinance defines a false alarm as an alarm dispatch request to a law enforcement agency, when the responding law enforcement officer finds no evidence of a criminal offense or attempted criminal offense after having completed a timely investigation of the alarm site.

How many false alarms does San Francisco have a year?
In 2002, the San Francisco Police Department responded to 55,202 alarm-related calls, over 90% of which were false alarms.

Why is that a problem?
The vast majority of emergency alarms to which law enforcement officials respond are false alarms. Because most of the false alarms are the result of improper maintenance or improper or careless use of an alarm system, the public and the police are subjected to needless danger when the police are called to respond to false alarms. False alarms add unnecessary risk to the responding officers and the public in general.

What is the City doing about this problem?
The City adopted a Police Emergency Alarm Ordinance (PDF) in March 2003 that requires alarm license registration and fines for excessive false alarms. The intent of this Ordinance is to reduce the number of false alarms received.

Do I have to register my alarm system?
Yes. No alarm user shall operate or cause to be operated, an alarm system at its site without a valid alarm license. A separate alarm license is required for each alarm site.

How do I register my alarm?
If you have an alarm monitoring service, they will bill you for the license. If you do not have an alarm monitoring service, you must fill out an Alarm License Application (PDF) from the Office of the Treasurer & Tax Collector within five (5) days after the alarm system is installed.

Is there a penalty for failure to register my alarm system?
Yes. Any person operating a non-licensed alarm system will be subject to a fine of $100.00, as well as a fine of $250.00 for each false alarm, including the first false alarm during the calendar year.

How many false alarms does the ordinance allow?
There is no penalty for the first alarm within the calendar year. The second alarm is $100, the third is $150.00, the fourth is $200.00, and five or more is $250.00 per alarm.

Can I appeal a fine?
If an alarm user, alarm installation company or monitoring company wishes to contest the assessment of a fee or license revocation, the alarm user, alarm installation company or monitoring company may call (415) 558-3822 to explain the basis for the contention that the City improperly assessed a fee or revoked a license.

If that phone call does not resolve the matter or if the alarm user, alarm installation company or monitoring company does not wish to call the number above, the alarm user, alarm installation company or monitoring company may appeal the assessment of a fee or license revocation. The alarm user, alarm installation company or monitoring company may file a written request (PDF) for a review by paying an appeal fee of $35 and setting forth the reasons for the appeal within twenty (20) business days after the date of notification. In the case of false alarm penalties, the date of notification is the "invoice date" provided on the Notice of False Alarm Penalty form.  The person filing the appeal must submit the appeal to the Office of the Treasurer & Tax Collector the full amount of any penalty imposed, plus any accrued interest and costs. The request will be handled by the Department of Emergency Management within thirty (30) days. Appeal fees, and any other amounts deposited with the Tax Collector, will be returned to the appealing alarm user, alarm installation company or monitoring company if the appeal is upheld.

When considering whether to file an appeal of an assessment, please note that the Police Emergency Alarm Ordinance allows the Alarm Ordinance Manager or hearing officer to adjust the count of false alarms based on:

  • Evidence that a false alarm was caused by an Act of God;
  • Evidence that a false alarm was caused by action of the telephone company;
  • Evidence that a false alarm was caused by a power outage lasting longer than four (4) hours;
  • Evidence that the alarm dispatch request was not a false alarm;
  • Evidence that the police officer response was not completed in a timely fashion; and/or
  • In determining the number of false alarms, multiple alarms occurring in any twenty-four (24) hour period may, in the Director's or the hearing officer's discretion, be counted as one false alarm, to allow the alarm user time to take corrective action unless the false alarms are directly caused by the alarm user.

The City presumes that the police officer response was completed in a timely fashion if the officer responds within 30 minutes or less from the time the alarm company receives notification of the alarm. The City presumes that the police officer response was not completed in a timely fashion if the officer does not respond within 30 minutes or less from the time the alarm company receives notification of the alarm. However, the facts of individual case may affect timeliness, and the City will consider any evidence presented concerning timeliness of officer response.

Please note that appeals will not be granted for false alarms that are a result of the following circumstances*:

  • Faulty defective or malfunctioning equipment supplied by the alarm company.
  • Improper installation or maintenance by the alarm company.
  • Improper monitoring by the alarm company.
  • Alarm activations which occur while alarm technicians are repairing, servicing or testing the alarm system.
  • An occurrence where no evidence of criminal activity is present.
  • Mistakes made by private contractors, maids, cleaning crews, realtors, etc.
  • Items within the home or business that move and cause motion detectors to activate (curtains, signs, balloons, plants, pets, etc.)
  • Improper maintenance of the alarm system by the alarm owner (including neglect of backup power/battery supplies).
  • Glass break detectors which activate due to noises or sounds other than actual glass breakage
  • Doors and/or windows that become loose and cause a break in the contacts which activate the alarm
  • Caretakers who watch homes or businesses when owners are away
  • Pets, rodents or wildlife.

* This list is intended only as a guide to assist you in deciding whether to appeal a false alarm assessment or whether to contact your alarm company for further discussion. This list is not intended to cover every situation where an appeal may be denied.

How will I know if a false alarm has occurred while I am away?
The Office of the Treasurer & Tax Collector shall send an invoice to the alarm user after each false alarm. The invoice shall include the amount of the penalty for the false alarm and a brief description of the alarm occurrence.

Why are there license requirements and false alarm fees?
License fees and false alarm fees were established to recover some of the costs expended by the police to respond to alarm calls. They were also established to serve as a deterrent to encourage users to prevent future false alarms. The revenue generated from these fees is also used to help defray the costs of the equipment and personnel to administer this ordinance.

What can I do to prevent false alarms?
Make sure everyone is familiar with alarm system operations.

  • Secure doors and windows before turning on the system.
  • Restrict your pets to areas without motion detectors.
  • Equipment should be routinely inspected and maintained by qualified personnel. Notify them immediately if you think the system is not working properly.
  • If the alarm goes off accidentally, notify the alarm company and/or your local law enforcement agency immediately.
  • Review the Customer False Alarm Prevention Checklist (PDF).

Where can I get more information?
Refer to the Police Emergency Alarm Ordinance Brochure (PDF) or call the Alarm Ordinance Manager at (415) 554-7961.

 

What is the address of the Offices of the Treasurer & Tax Collector?
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place,
City Hall, Room 140,
San Francisco, CA 94102-4639