False alarms wasting police time

When a residential or business security alarm activates, two Maui police officers are dispatched to the scene. It’s likely that they’ve been diverted from other police business, on the chance that maybe this time they’ll catch a burglar in the act of a break-in, Maui County Council members were told Tuesday.

In a year, police receive more than 4,500 alarms (an average of more than 12 per day), and more than 90 percent of them are false, Maui Police Department Capt. Clarence Kenui Jr. testified, adding that it’s a “tremendous problem” and a waste of police time and limited resources.

If an alarm indicates there’s a holdup or a panic situation, then officers need to respond to it as an emergency, rushing to the scene with lights flashing and sirens blaring. And, that “creates a lot of risks of accidents and injuries,” Kenui said.

Council members referred a bill aimed at reducing police calls to false alarms to the Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Council Member Riki Hokama.

Wailuku Patrol Lt. Ernest Soares said false alarms often happen during “peak times” when officers are busy responding to calls for help in domestic violence cases or traffic accidents.

“We have big things that’s going down, and we have to break away to go to an alarm to turn out that it’s a false call,” Soares said.

Police Lt. Wade Maeda said responding to each false alarm consumes the time of two officers, or nearly 20 percent of the 11 officers assigned to an area on any given shift.

“You’ve got to check every door, every window because the bottom line is the liability falls upon us,” he said. “If we don’t check (and) something happens, we’ll be held accountable.”

Council Member Don Guzman, who drafted the bill, asked Soares whether Maui alarm companies – as such companies do on the Mainland – provide customers with roving private security service that serve as first responders to alarms.

Soares said his experience has been that Maui companies rely on the Maui Police Department to respond first. And, “for good cause,” he added, because if a burglary were happening, then “we should be there.”

Often, though, alarms malfunction, “and we respond over and over and over and there’s no sanctions or accountability,” he said, referring to alarm companies and their customers.

Among other things, Guzman’s bill would:

* Increase service charges for false alarms to $50 for the second false alarm, $100 for the third, $150 for the fourth and $200 for the fifth. For the sixth and subsequent false alarms, the service fee would be $250. (Currently, the service charge is $50 for the fourth through sixth false alarm, $100 for the seventh and eighth alarm, and $150 for subsequent false alarms.)

* Allow the police chief the discretion to suspend police response for 12 months to any business or residence for which there’s been more than four false alarms in a year.

* Establish a requirement that alarm system users register their systems and pay a registration fee valid for two years. (Those with outstanding service charges for false alarms would not be allowed to register.)

* Require that all audible alarm systems have a device that ends the alarm signal automatically within 15 minutes of activation.

* Prohibit automatic telephone dialers from connecting with 911 or the phone number of any police facility.

Kenui said similar legislation already has been enacted around the country, and such measures have resulted in a 40 to 60 percent reduction in false alarms.

“It’s a very effective means to reduce costs,” he said.

If there were a stiffer penalty for officers responding to repeated false alarms, then “hopefully that will motivate the alarm companies and users to ensure the systems are functioning properly,” Kenui said.

There was no response to requests via email and phone for comment from Cliff Kunkel, Maui branch manager of Security Tech, one of Maui’s largest private security system businesses.

Security Tech provides security to Maui County’s Kalana Pakui building. A window sticker warns intruders of “24-hour police dispatch.”

* Brian Perry can be reached at