Cost of false alarms at issue

Proposal to curb expenses calls for fine after 3 violations

More than $1 million paid

April 02, 2000|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

The increasing number of false alarms from commercial and home security systems has cost Howard County more than $1 million, and officials want to make users pay.

In legislation proposed by County Executive James N. Robey, residents with security systems would have to pay as much as $1,000 in fines for false alarms, as well as a one-time $35 fee to register their systems with the county Police Department.

"Our ultimate goal is to hold alarm users responsible and accountable for the operation of their system," police Chief Wayne Livesay said.

According to police statistics, the number of false alarms increased from 18,358 in 1995 to 23,207 last year. It cost the county more than $1 million in manpower and other resources to respond to those calls last year.

Because registration isn't required for either home or commercial security systems, there is no way to tell whether the number of alarm systems in the county has increased over the years. But police and security system businesses say alarms are in demand by county residents and businesses.

"My feeling is that this is a county with a high socioeconomic standard, and there are more people with alarms," said Lt. Glenn Hansen of the Police Department's Regional Automated Enforcement section, which would oversee the alarm registration. "And a lot of the new homes come with alarm systems built in."

Booming business

Lee May, sales manager at D/A Mid Atlantic Security in Columbia, said his company opened in 1972 serving only businesses. But during the past few years, Mid Atlantic has received so many calls from county residents that it expanded its business to residential alarm installation.

In Bell Atlantic's Greater Baltimore Yellow Pages, dozens of listings advertise "burglar alarm systems and monitoring" companies all over the metro area.

"Even with the bigger security companies like ADT around," May said, "we still have been able to get into the residential side of the business and make money."

Reality or percetion?

May said he believes that although Howard has one of the lowest crime rates in the state, it's the perception of crime that is worrisome to residents and business owners.

"It's not just theft or burglaries," he said, "but about how people want to feel safe in their homes and protect their businesses."

Though the Police Department's system would be used to track violations and issue penalties, Hansen said, it also would give officers important information about previous calls at those addresses with alarms. The registration would tell officers who lives in a house and whether anyone is disabled, elderly or ill.

Under the proposed legislation, police would issue warning letters for the first two false calls. For three or more violations, fines would range from $50 to $1,000 for 15 or more false alarms.

Phasing in

If passed by the County Council in May, the measure would be phased in. It would start with commercial alarm users in January, and residential alarm users would be required to register beginning in January 2002. The law would not apply to car alarms, medical alert systems or fire alarms.

If the legislation passes, Howard would be the fifth county in Maryland with this type of law. Other counties with similar laws in place are Baltimore, Charles, Montgomery and Prince George's.

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