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If the Salt Lake City Police Department gets its way, running up excessive false alarm calls may cause businesses and residents to say `Ouch!' as they reach for their wallets.

The Police Department wants the City Council to reduce the number of free false alarm calls each system can generate and charge system owners more for excessive calls.The department has asked the council to increase the fee charged when police respond to a false alarm from $15 per officer (usually two officers) to a flat fee of $50 per call.

It also wants false alarms counted in a 12-month period rather than a calendar year. System users would get four false alarms within a 12-month period before the fee kicked in.

Currently, alarm system users get three false alarms in a calendar month or 7 calls in a calendar year before the city applies a fee.

"We're trying to eliminate some of the false alarms so we can have officers available to handle other calls," said Officer Terry Opheikens, who oversees alarm enforcement.

The City Council will hear an overview of the proposed changes during its committee meeting on July 7. A public hearing is scheduled on July 12.

An increasing number of alarm systems along the Wasatch Front has deluged local law enforcement agencies with false alarm calls. Only 3 percent of the alarm calls they receive are legitimate, police agencies say.

The rest are false - triggered by system malfunctions, weather, power surges, animals or user error. The number of false alarm calls is staggering.

In 1993, police agencies along the Wasatch Front received 14,000 false alarm calls.

In Salt Lake City, where just over 5,000 alarm systems operated last year, there were 9,187 false alarm calls in 1993.

The city charged 335 system owners for 1,403 of those calls, collecting about $36,000. That averages about $26 per call.

Most agencies have a policy of sending two officers to alarm calls. But in Salt Lake City, often only one officer is available, Opheikens said.

"At $15 (for one officer) it doesn't represent what it costs and it doesn't get their attention," he said.

It typically take 30 minutes to one hour to check a premise and clear a false alarm call. Meanwhile, other types of calls stack up, police agencies say.

Salt Lake City created a false-alarm ordinance in 1991 after calls hit 12,000 in 1989. The ordinance has helped, but not enough.

Higher fees that kick in sooner will give businesses and residents an incentive to make sure their alarm systems work properly, Opheikens said.

"Lots of police departments across the country have stopped responding to alarms."