Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:
Question: I had a false burglar alarm recently that the Asheville Police Department responded to. I then got a letter and application to register my alarm system for a permit. No problem — I’ve been doing it for a number of years for a property in Tucson, Arizona. Here, I’ve only had an alarm system at the address for 25-plus years and just became aware of the program. Is it something new? Also, it looks like the city contracts with a company called “Crywolf” for this service. The website is difficult to use and looks to be an alarm reduction program for an entirely different city in another state? Am I reading this right? How does this program work?
My answer: I’d be happy to sell you an alarm chihuahua/terrier mix. Let me tell you, no one gets into our house without getting heavily barked at. Price negotiable.
Real answer: APD spokesperson Samantha Booth said Central Square-CryWolf started conducting alarm management for APD and City of Asheville residents and businesses in May 2022. By the way, I found its company website under the Central Square name, but Booth provided an Asheville-specific site, as well.
“The program requires them to register their alarm systems in order to comply with the new program,” Booth said. “The ultimate goal for the city is to reduce false alarms, not to collect fees.”
And yes, false alarms are a huge problem.
“Since 2018, 97% of both residential and business alarms have been reported as false alarms, which unnecessarily drains police resources,” Booth said. “False alarms are not only expensive but also divert law enforcement resources from real emergencies.”
Asheville City Council in June 2021 adopted an amended alarm ordinance based on the Security Industry Alarm Coalition’s best practices.
“In conjunction with the ordinance, CryWolf will now take ownership of the alarm system management and billing,” Booth said. “Having this service outsourced will prove to be an efficient and economical means to reduce false alarms, supporting both the alarm owner and the police.”
“Other communities have had great success reducing the number of false alarms when they require alarms to be registered and assessing cost recovery for false alarms,” Booth continued. “Cities using this system have reduced the number of false alarms by as much as 70% in one year after implementing an alarm registration system.”
As the reader noticed, city residents and businesses are required to register their monitored alarm system. The fee is $25, with an annual renewal fee of $10.
“Additionally, there will be no penalty for registered alarm system owners for the first two false alarms,” Booth said. “A series of graduated fines start on the third false alarm, with a $50 penalty and increasing with successive false alarms. Failing to register an alarm could result in a $100 fine.”
Also, companies with alarms will be required to follow “Enhanced Call Verification,” which requires the alarm monitoring company to call a responsible party to confirm the alarm before notifying the Asheville Police Department.
“If the first person cannot be reached, there is a requirement to contact a second key holder,” Booth said. “If neither person can be reached, APD can then be contacted.”
If the company gets hold of the key holder or responsible person, they’ll be told of the alarm. It’s then their responsibility “to make a reasonable decision to determine if the alarm is valid,” Booth said. The protocol is not required for fire, panic, robbery-in-progress, or calls that are actual crimes in progress, she noted.
Booth said the verification program can reduce false alarm calls by as much as 40%.
“The majority of false alarms are triggered by user error,” Booth said, adding that APD urges homeowners and businesses to review passwords with family members and employees. “It further urges alarm users to review how to turn your system on and off and to make sure the alarm system is in good working order.”
Question: Does the City of Asheville have any term limits on the mayor’s office, or City Council positions? If not, how come?
My answer: Man, you shut some people’s water off for 11 days, and they start getting a little testy.
Real answer: City of Asheville spokesperson Kim Miller, after consulting with the city’s legal department, answered this one.
“There are no term limits prescribed for the members of the City Council,” Miller said. “No such provisions were ever included in the city’s charter, which, as is the case for all municipalities, is drafted and implemented by the state legislature.”
In short, it’s not an authority given to local governments to implement on their own accord.
Western Carolina University political scientist Chris Cooper offered some context.
“We are not a ‘home rule’ state,” Cooper said, noting that in some home rule states, such as Ohio, the local governments exist on their own and can do whatever they want, as long as it doesn’t conflict with state law. “We are not a home rule state, so the General Assembly has a remarkable amount of authority and oversight of local governments. And it would be them that needs to put in those term limits.”
Ironically, term limits can be problematic as well.
“Term limits generally don’t solve the problems they’re meant to, and they create new ones,” Cooper said. “They do ‘throw the bums out of office,’ but they replace them with bums who look, sound, talk and vote just like old ones.”
Another group benefits, and it’s not voters.
“It turns out the people who get more power when there are term limits are the people we can’t vote out — the lobbyists,” Cooper said. “Because they’re the ones who know where the bodies are buried and how you write legislation and all the details of how to run a government.”
So, the ballot box has to suffice as the term limit mechanism in North Carolina. Be sure to vote!
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