NEWPORT –– Those who frequently misuse the city’s emergency services could be fined up to the full cost of the call.
The Newport City Council voted unanimously Monday night to pass an ordinance that would fine those who repeatedly call 911 when they don’t actually have an emergency.
“Each time an alarm goes off, it requires 15 to 30 minutes of time by either the police or fire department to respond,” said City Manager Spencer Nebel. “For fire alarms, it requires dispatching fire equipment and a crew to respond to that alarm.”
According to documents drafted for the city council, response to false alarms occurs frequently enough to drain police and fire services. Responding to multiple false alarms at one location where there isn’t actually an emergency takes police officers and firefighters — as well as their resources — away from real emergencies.
Under the new ordinance, property owners and those with regular access to the property can’t call 911 if they don’t actually have an emergency. Police and firefighters called to the scene of an emergency can break open windows and doors to get into a building where there’s an emergency alarm going off.
If the call is deemed a false alarm, police and fire will write a report saying as much and mail it to the owner of the property where no actual emergency was found to exist.
For any false alarms emergency services respond to more than six times, the property owner will be billed the full cost of the trip. The bill would be due 30 days after the owner of the property is sent the bill, and if it is not paid in that time, the cost of the bill would be considered a lien on the property. It would also accrue interest.
The ordinance was drafted after Newport Police Chief Jason Malloy and Newport Fire Chief Rob Murphy reviewed what other cities across the state do in response to improper use of a city’s emergency services. Many other places in Oregon, they found, have ordinances similar to the one passed last night, including Lincoln City, Astoria, Coos Bay and North Bend.
“Over the past two years, they have reviewed other communities structure for addressing multiple false alarms,” Nebel said. “For the first two false alarms, there’s no charge, but if there’s repeated false alarms coming from a specific property, there’s a fee schedule that is included in the ordinance.”
On the third false alarm, there is a charge of $50, but it goes up from there.
“It’s $75 for the fourth false alarm, and $100 for the fifth consecutive false alarm occuring in a 12-month period,” Nebel said. “Furthermore, there’s a $50 appeal fee that’s been included in the schedule in the event the owner wishes to appeal a determination of a false alarm charge.”