Anne Arundel County police can start fining homeowners and businesses for repeated false alarms starting this August under a bill signed into law Tuesday by County Executive John R. Leopold.
Co-sponsored by Leopold and County Councilman Josh Cohen, the law aims to cut down on the time officers spend responding to false alarms. In 2008, Arundel police received 31,206 alarm calls; in only 230 of those instances was an actual crime taking place, police said. According to police statistics, false alarms resulted in 8,582 hours of wasted manpower last year.
"This alarm law is going to tremendously help use the officers' time more appropriately, which will greatly enhance both public safety and officer safety," county Police Chief Col. James Teare Sr. said during a news conference at the Police Department's Southern District headquarters.
The law, which goes into effect in early August, requires home and business owners to register their alarm systems with county police; registration is free. Alarm holders are allowed two false alarms in a 12-month period. The third and fourth false alarms would result in $50 fines and the fifth a $75 fine, with incremental increases up to $250.
Some business owners and homeowners have criticized the bill, saying false alarms sometimes are caused by weather or otherwise not due to human error. They say the new law could penalize them unfairly.
"The county is going to be very hesitant in any levying of fines," Cohen said. "To take an officer off of their normal duties to a bogus alarm, when officers are already spread thin, is what we're trying to prevent."
Anne Arundel County joins 12 other Maryland jurisdictions that have alarm ordinances, including Baltimore City and Baltimore, Howard, Prince George's and Montgomery counties.
Cpl. Richard Colmus of the county police's crime prevention unit said officers had lobbied lawmakers in the late 1990s for legislation. The county had been operating under a state statute that gives officers the authority to issue a $30 civil citation for three or more false alarms within 30 days. But the civil citations required officers to go to court, taking them off the street, Colmus said.