KTUU (Anchorage) -- People are encouraged to call police when a crime is witnessed or when someone needs emergency help. But it turns out, calling too often can lead to a financial hit for property owners.
January is the month during which people who had police show up either at their homes or their place of business too many times in 2019 learn how much they've racked up in fines. Lois Gilbert, who lives in Anchorage's Mountain View neighborhood, is one of approximately twenty property owners to be assessed fines for excessive police calls during 2019.
"They said I was calling too much," Gilbert told KTUU during an interview from her garden-level condominium, which she's owned for decades.
She admits she doesn't hesitate to call police when she's worried about something, especially when she hears what sounds like gun shots, and when she feels she or someone else is being harrassed.
In 2019, she called police 28 times, according to police records. Of those calls, seven have been designated as excessive -- leading to a fine of $3,500, $500 per violation.
Anchorage municipal code allows residents eight calls per year. Commercial properties are allowed 100. Call volume that exceeeds that is subject to fines.
Anchorage Police declined to speak with us about Ms. Gilbert's situation, citing her situation as an open case. But they did agree to sit down with us and talk through the basics of when it is and isn't okay to call police.
Some calls, like those relating to personal safety and medical emergencies, don't count toward the totals. "What this ordinance was created I think to stem is that negative impact of one location in a neighborhood that's kind of dragging everybody down. Because it's never just a vacuum of one house, that's affected," Anchorage Police Officer Natasha Welch told KTUU.
Drug traffic, loud fights, addiction-related problems are considered general disturbances, a classification that tend to have the highest call volume, Welch said.
Before fines are imposed, the police department first sends warning letter, which are meant to prompt a converation about how to reduce call volume. "It's really a huge process of talking to home owners, of talking to property owners, and saying we want to work with you. we want this to be better. we don't want police to keep responding to this place over and over and over for the exact same call type. We can work with you and something will change," Welch said.
Police want people to call for serious situations, things like child neglect, domestic violence and stalking. So these types of calls aren't included on the yearly tally on which warning letters and fines are based. "Most people are compliant. Most people do reach out. We come up with a plan that is effective and the plan works," Welch said.
Of approximately 100 warning letters issued in 2019, only about 20 of those warnings resulted in fines, Welch said. Property owners who are assessed fines have an opportunity to appeal.