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North Van district, city to charge fees for security system false alarms

How did an administrative error cost the North Vancouver RCMP more than $100,000?
RCMP car Paul
North Vancouver RCMP members are pulled off the job to deal with security system false alarms about 1,300 times per year.

Having a private security system with a hair trigger could soon cost you in North Vancouver.

The City and District of North Vancouver are about to begin hitting anyone whose false alarms draw repeated responses from police with escalating fees.

The changes come at the request of North Vancouver RCMP, which responds to about 1,300 home/business alarm calls per year that turn out to be nothing, most of them because the alarm system is malfunctioning. Each call typically draws two officers away from more pressing matters for about an hour, according to municipal staff reports.

After review by the RCMP and municipalities, staff recommended everyone be allowed one false alarm with no fee per year, but that a bill for $150 be sent to everyone whose security system cries wolf a second time. That fee would grow with subsequent incidents over the year – $250 for a third response, $400 for a fourth, $600 for a fifth and $900 for each incident thereafter.

The proposed fees were set at a level deemed appropriate to recover about 50 per cent of the costs taxpayers currently foot for false alarms, and to prod owners into having their faulty alarms repaired or replaced.

The city has had a similar bylaw in place since 2008, which district council considered but opted not to join. In 2020, city staff discovered that property owners had been incorrectly billed the wrong amount based on a much older bylaw the city had in place along with the district, from 1993. They stopped enforcing the bylaw at that time, and the confusion has been costly. After an audit, close to $100,000 in fees, plus interest, had to be reimbursed to 513 property owners out of the North Vancouver RCMP’s operating budget.

“It was an administrative error that we need to take responsibility for,” city Mayor Linda Buchanan told council Monday night (June 13). “Council is never involved in these matters. I'm happy to see staff brought this forward, and we'll move forward and make sure that it's aligned and administrated appropriately in the future.”

When it came to the new bylaw, staff reports from both municipalities spell out that the intent was to have both North Vancouvers adopt identical bylaws and fee structures, in part, to avoid such confusion again.

“Given that the false alarms incidents in the city and the district are attended to by the same integrated RCMP detachment, it is reasonable that both municipalities provide the same governance structure for dealing with false alarms, for ease of administration, training and to ensure a consistent level of service,” the city staff report states.

But that’s not what happened Monday night.

City council passed the recommended changes with little discussion. Meanwhile, in district council chambers, Mayor Mike Little said he was sympathetic to residents who felt the fines were too high and moved they be reduced so that a second offence carried a $50 fee while a third offence, $150.

After getting dinged with a bylaw fine, only about 10 per cent of people reoffend, Little said, so there’s no need to bring the “heavy hammer” down on them.

“I don’t think people intend to have that happen,” he said. “I think that this is a fair balance that includes showing the requisite seriousness to avoid repeat false alarms, but with a little bit of grace for somebody who's probably already been embarrassed by the situation.”

The new rules come into effect on July 1.