The Palo Alto Police Department responded to approximately 2,672 alarms during 2015. Studies have consistently shown that 98 percent of the alarms that police respond too are false. The major cause of false alarms is user error, usually either opening or closing errors, and improper maintenance. Each alarm response requires a minimum of two patrol officers and averages 20 minutes per officer, per alarm. This equates to 2,100 hours or the equivalent to slightly more than one full time police officer, at a cost of approximately $100,000 per year. These false alarms negatively influence the overall safety of the community by diverting officers from actual emergencies and other legitimate calls for service.
In order to reduce the number of false alarms and create more time for police officers to respond to crimes and solve problems, the City of Palo Alto amended the Palo Alto Municipal Code, Chapter 4.39, which regulates alarms within the city.
A key element of the alarm ordinance is the requirement that all alarm users have an alarm permit. The alarm permit is an integral part of the ordinance because it requires alarm users to provide the Police Department with the names, addresses and phone numbers of three persons who can respond to the premises of the activated alarm within 30 minutes if the need arises.
Every residence or business operating an alarm system in Palo Alto must obtain a permit from the Palo Alto Police Department. The annual payment for an alarm permit is $40. The revenue generated from these permits is used to defray the costs of administering the ordinance. Any alarm activation to which police respond that is not permitted will incur a $250 penalty fine.
To apply for an alarm permit: You can apply in person at the front desk of the Police Department at 275 Forest Avenue in Palo Alto during normal business hours (Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.), you can click on the link below to download and complete the application form (you can also complete it online and then print it out), and then either mail or bring the completed application to the Police Department. You may also pickup a blank application at the Police Department during normal business hours, if do not have access to the Internet. If you choose to apply in person, you should be prepared to post the fee and provide all required information.
The alarm ordinance encourages accountability and responsibility of the user(s) by charging alarm owners for false alarms. No alarm user is perfect. To that end, two (2) false alarms in a 12-month period (beginning with the first false alarm received) are allowed without a penalty assessed. However, after two false alarms, a progressive fee will be assessed up to and through the sixth false alarm. After the sixth false alarm, police will place the alarm on a non-response status for a specific period of time. A non-response status means that police will not respond to the alarm. Alarm users may appeal revocations.
The City of Palo Alto defines a false alarm as "an alarm signal resulting in a response by the police department when an emergency does not exist." An alarm shall be presumed false if the responding officer(s) do not locate any evidence of an intrusion or of the commission of an unlawful act or emergency on the premises, which might have caused the alarm to sound. Alarms caused by earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, or other "violent" acts of nature, shall not be deemed false alarms.
If you have questions regarding the alarm ordinance, you can contact Code Enforcement Officer Heather Johnson at 650-329-2130 or via e-mail at email@example.com.