Bill would crack down on false alarms

June 11, 2008|By Steven Stanek | Steven Stanek,Sun Reporter

Anne Arundel business and home owners responsible for repeated false alarms could pay more than twice as much as frequent violators elsewhere in the state, according to a draft bill presented yesterday to the County Council.

Offered by the police leadership and County Executive John R. Leopold's administration, the draft bill calls for a starting penalty of $125 for a third false alarm violation. No other jurisdiction in Maryland has an initial fee exceeding $50, and some start as low as $25, said representatives of the Maryland Burglar and Fire Alarm Association.

"We feel that it's a good bill ... but the fine structure seems to be generally higher than most of the other counties," said Dick Avnet, president of the association. "High fines tend to discourage people from actually using the alarm system and therefore opening the door for the criminals."

Anne Arundel police responded to 22,604 alarms last year, but just 1 percent, or 226, involved a crime. The new legislation is designed to lower the number of false alarm calls and free up police for other matters.

The bill, which has not been formally introduced, does not include a penalty for fire alarms, though there were 3,305 such calls in 2007, said Battalion Chief Matthew Tobia, a spokesman for the county Fire Department.

The draft bill would hit repeat false alarm offenders with a $125 penalty for up to six false alarms, $500 for seven to 14 false alarms, and $1,000 for more than 15.

Baltimore County starts with a fee of $50 for a third and fourth false alarm, and the fine increases in $25 increments for each subsequent false alarm. It would take seven false alarms in Baltimore County to reach a penalty of $125. In Howard County, where fees also start at $50 for a third violation, it would take five false alarms calls to get to $150.

"They all get up there eventually. We just get up there faster," said Capt. Thomas Rzepkowski, commander of the Anne Arundel police special services division, who led the presentation to the County Council. Rzepkowski added that the fees were modeled after other civil penalties in Anne Arundel County.

Councilman Daryl D. Jones, a Severn Democrat, took issue with the high charges, saying they could deter lower- and fixed-income residents from setting their alarms.

"Our residents are already stretched financially. ... I couldn't begin to think of a reason the fee would be so exorbitant," said Jones, adding that he thought the number would come down during council debates.

Council members also expressed concern over a provision in the draft bill that would allow police to stop responding to households and businesses after three false alarms in a single day.

"What if the fifth one is the real one?" said council Chairwoman Cathleen M. Vitale, a Severna Park Republican.

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