HOWARD COUNTY wasted $1 million of taxpayer money responding to false burglar alarms last year. Other local jurisdictions wasted millions more. Pets, windstorms and homeowners and hired help who don't know how security systems work are tripping alarms at alarming rates.
In 1996, Howard County police responded to 19,883 bogus calls, about 55 a day. The problem is not local. Police departments across the country are faced with significant losses of money and manpower caused by home and business alarm systems. Nationally and in the Baltimore-Washington suburbs, 98 percent of all alarm calls are false.
This is not just wasteful, it's dangerous. Officers are bound to become complacent responding to bad call after bad call. It's a matter of time before they are caught off-guard when someone's alarm signals a true emergency.
The solution is reducing the number of false calls. This means making security system owners and companies, who now have little reason to care how many times alarms go off, care about preventing false alarms. Fines for repeat offenders are a must.
The model for this region is Montgomery County, where an alarm-reduction team registers systems and charges on a sliding scale against those with four or more false alarms a year. Serious offenders can be charged in the thousands of dollars. That has helped, but last year the reduction was still only 8 percent.
One Montgomery council member now proposes getting rid of the three "free" bad alarms, which makes sense, and cutting off police response for a year to homes or businesses with more than three false alarms. That would effectively reduce the number of calls but seems destined to lead to trouble.
At this point, Baltimore-area jurisdictions need their own reduction programs. Howard County officials are in the early stages of work on legislation based on Montgomery's model.
In Baltimore County, which handled 77,000 false alarms last year, officials estimate that if a proposed alarm reduction program there is as successful as Montgomery's, their county would save $1.2 million annually in police resources. That's not small change. Time will tell if even stiffer incentives are needed to combat this stubborn problem.
Pub Date: 5/13/97