The noise that wouldn't go away Unrelenting burglar and car alarms driving neighbors crazy.

July 15, 1996

LOSING SLEEP TO a beeping fire alarm is aggravating enough to make a person lose grip on rational thought.

Apparently that is what happened to Stephen A. Calhoun, a Pasadena man who last week smashed a window and splintered a door and its frame to still a noisy smoke detector in an adjacent vacant apartment that was disturbing his slumber. He now faces criminal charges of burglary and destruction of property.

We cannot condone Mr. Calhoun's actions, but we sympathize with his frustrations. Quiet and peaceful nights are falling victim to ever-increasing security concerns. Wailing burglar alarms and honking car alarms are becoming common nighttime sounds in many neighborhoods. Often, when these are false alarms, they are shut off quickly. Occasionally, however, neighbors are disturbed for a seeming eternity.

Aside from burglar and car alarms that cut themselves off automatically after some reasonable interval, communities desperately need legal mechanisms that allow police or fire personnel to disconnect errant alarms.

Two years ago, residents in Baltimore County's Randallstown were subjected to six days of a wailing burglar alarm. The homeowner was vacationing in Indonesia at the time and unaware of the unrelenting disturbance his device was causing. Police eventually clipped its wires and silence returned to the neighborhood.

The homeowner in that case had tried to air express a key to a friend back home, but the key never arrived. His friend finally allowed the police to enter the apartment. Prodded by that incident, which received national publicity, Baltimore County is considering legislation that would allow police to silence long-sounding alarms and impose fines for repeat disturbances.

Such a statute might have saved Mr. Calhoun from his current predicament. Before he smashed his way into the apartment to silence the offending alarm, he had tried to convince his landlord, Andre J. Francois, to disconnect it. Apparently, Mr. Francois refused. Since it was 1 a.m. and Mr. Calhoun sought some undisturbed sleep, he took matters into his own hands. If police had been contacted and been able to intervene, Mr. Calhoun would not now be facing criminal charges.

Pub date: 7/15/96

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