County Council again eyes false-alarm fines Penalties would escalate in $50 increments to $1,000

January 02, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

False alarms are ringing at a record pace again in Baltimore County.

But county police hope a proposed law that would impose a stiff fine for multiple accidental false alarms will reverse the trend.

During this fiscal year, police expect accidental false alarms -- which can be caused by wind, rain, birds and electrical malfunctions -- to increase by about 8 percent, to 83,000. That upsets police officials, who worry about the time that officers spend answering such calls.

Last fiscal year, Baltimore County police answered about 77,000 false alarms.

County law carries no fines for accidental false alarms. Minor fines can be imposed under state law.

The proposal before the County Council would set escalating fines ranging from $50 to $1,000 for excessive accidental false alarms. Fines would start with the third false alarm within the same year and would increase in increments of $50.

The proposal, a revised version of a bill the council balked at in July, also calls for a year of gathering statistics before fines would be imposed on homeowners.

Several council members have objected to the four new police positions that would be required to administer the law -- despite having approved money for the positions in May. Instead, they favored requiring alarm-users to have calls placed through a fee-per-call 900 number that a phone company could administer.

But police opposed that measure.

"We took a look at it, but that system doesn't escalate the fees," said police Maj. Kevin L. Sanzenbacher. "There's no incentive to stop the problem."

Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat and an outspoken advocate of the 900 phone system, is willing to go along with the administration-backed bill.

"Let's see what a year of the program does," he said.

Councilman Douglas B. Riley, a Towson Republican critical of the bureaucracy the bill would create, has not decided how he will vote. But he said, "We need some kind of relief."

The Maryland Burglar and Fire Alarm Association supports the new approach, said legislative chairman Mark W. Appleby, president of an alarm company. "I like that 'wait and see' " for residential users, he said.

Under the proposed law, police would have until February 1999 to determine how many false alarms are commercial and how many residential. They would compile statistics based on the registration of installers, monitoring companies and users.

The council then could revise the law before enforcement against homeowners would begin in July 1999.

Several police precinct surveys of false alarms showed that 97 percent of the top offenders were commercial, Sanzenbacher said. But without a registration system, police have no way to document how many false alarms are commercial or residential.

Like the previous bill, the new measure would require companies that install and monitor commercial alarm systems to register with the police by Feb. 1. Commercial alarm users would have until May 1 to register.

Enforcement would apply to commercial alarm users starting July 1.

Companies that install or monitor residential alarms would have to register by May 1, and new residential customers would be required to register after that date.

Ten months later, existing residential alarm users would be required to register with police. Enforcement would begin July 1, 1999.

A council vote is expected on the issue this month.

Pub Date: 1/02/98

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