Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker has established a 14-member task force to try to stem the rising tide of false alarms in the county -- an average of 55 calls a day for police officers to investigate.
In the first six months of this year, there were 9,775 false alarms that cost $560,889 in police time, Howard police officials said. This year, the department expects to spend about 4.6 percent of its $24.3 million budget responding to false alarms.
The total for the first half of 1996 is on a pace expected to surpass last year's 18,358 calls. In 1994 there were 18,448 false alarms in the county, up about 1,500 from 1993.
"The number of false alarms we're getting is killing our staff and burdening our budget," said Sgt. Glenn Hansen, head of the Police Department's research and planning unit. "When you're responding to at least 55 calls a day, it starts to create this strain on officers.
"They start to feel complacent that it's going to be a false call, and that can lead to a dangerous situation," he said.
At least 50 percent of the false calls stem from employees who do not know how to operate security systems at their businesses, Hansen said. An additional 41 percent of the false alarms are from homeowners.
State fines for false alarms -- which begin at $30 and can accumulate with each additional offense -- haven't helped reduce the number of needless calls. Because Howard County police officials don't have the time to tally the false alarms and issue state penalties every day, an owner is usually fined just once a month, regardless of the number of violations that month.
With a growing population -- thus more homes and businesses with alarms -- and no incentive to reduce the number of times an alarm sounds, the rate of false alarms is growing, Hansen said.
When an alarm sounds, security workers at a monitoring station are alerted and call the owner. If the owner does not answer or someone does not provide a proper pass code, the monitor calls for the police.
Each time police arrive, they must search the entire property -- sometimes taking hours to search large warehouses -- to make sure the building is secure.
The time involved in responding to a false alarm takes officers away from crime prevention and crime-solving work, officials said.
Pub Date: 10/02/96