Published January 22, 2008
ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Anchorage police have begun sending bills to people if officers have to make more than eight trips per year to their homes.
The first homeowner to be billed under a law that allows police to charge people got a tab for $23,000 last week.
Police have been called to the home dozens of times since last summer and 10 times so far this year, they said.
An ordinance that took effect in 2002 calls for taxpayers to pay for the first eight police responses to a home in a year. After that, the homeowner may be charged $500 per visit, what police estimate it costs to pay officers and maintain equipment for a single call.
"We're trying to tell homeowners that if you're having an excessive amount of calls to your residence, you need to take responsibility for those calls," said Anchorage police Sgt. Denny Allen. "We're not encouraging people not to call the police for valid reasons."
Some problem homes are getting 90 or more calls a year, he said.
Police did not begin enforcing the ordinance until last summer. Getting police to do so was "like changing a battleship in midcourse," said Assemblyman Allan Tesche, who sponsored the law.
"The intent was to give the police an extra tool to be used against crack houses, drug houses and general public nuisances that are generating an inordinate number of police calls," Tesche said. "At some point, a city can and should start charging for overuse of its police department."
The ordinance does not affect businesses and excludes calls for medical emergencies and domestic violence. False alarms and receipts of false information do not count against a homeowner unless the reports were initiated by the owner or an occupant.
For rental properties, the owner is responsible for either controlling the tenants, evicting them or paying the bill, Tesche said. The police will first send a letter alerting the owner that fees are pending. The owner then has 30 days to correct the situation and halt the calls. After that, they'll get the bill.
At the Airport Heights home that was billed $23,000, calls were routinely for drugs, alcohol and disturbances, Allen said. Neighbors reported cars coming at all hours of night, with arguments in the yard and drunks urinating in the road.
Police sent the homeowner, Tammy Lynn Miller, 40, a warning notice in August. The calls for service persisted and on Thursday the city sent her the bill, Allen said.
Miller was arrested last week on charges of theft and forgery.
Her home is now boarded up being seized by the bank, Allen said. If she can't pay the city's bill, the ordinance calls for liens to be placed against the home until the city collects.
"We don't care if you pay it, we're going to get that money somehow," he said.
One other warning letter has been sent so far, Allen said. About a half dozen other homeowners being eyed as violators may have to clean up their acts or pay.
The intent of the law is that some offenders, including renters, will get the message that they will be penalized for their behavior and will get tired of moving or paying the bills, Tesche said.
"If you make it hard for people to stay, you're sending a message that you're going after them," he said. "It's not solving the problem, but it's helping."