The city of Sandy may be pinching the wallets of residents and business owners whose security systems repeatedly trigger false alarms.
A proposed ordinance being discussed by City Council members would fine folks $100 the fifth time - and every time afterward - that the alarm goes off. A public hearing on the issue is scheduled for later in July.False alarms are one of the peskiest problems for police departments nationwide. At least 90 percent of alarms dropped turn out to be false, said Sara Thompson of the the International Association of Police Chiefs, which produced a study on false alarms.
The main reason for false alarms is operator error, she said. Second is failure to keep the equipment properly maintained and cleaned. Something as simple as getting a new pet or moving the furniture in your living room can trigger an alarm system, she said.
On average, an alarm ties up at least two police officers for an hour. That's an hour when an officer could be out doing other kinds of police work, Sandy police officer Jason Montgomery said. The cost of two police officers for one hour is about $100, he added.
From January 1997 through March 1998, Sandy officers responded to 6,077 alarm calls, he said. The top 25 frequent offenders were responsible for 666 of those alarms - 664 of them turned out to be false.
Ironically, the single biggest offender is the 3rd District Court office, which sits right next to the police department and had 71 false alarms last year. The city itself was No. 2 on the list of top offenders with better than 25 alarms.
"Basically what it comes down to is we feel like it's a waste of time, man hours and money responding to false alarms," said Sandy Police Sgt. Kevin Thacker.
The ordinance, Thacker said, will hopefully be an incentive for business owners and private residents to be more responsible about keeping their alarms in working order and ensuring that everyone in the household or business can correctly set or deactivate an alarm.
Salt Lake City has had a similar problem and put an ordinance in place in 1994. The city has an alarm coordinator that works with false alarm offenders and offers a class in alarm maintenance and operations.
Last year Salt Lake police officers responded to more than 9,000 alarms, most of which were false, and the city collected some $165,000 in fines, alarm coordinator Shanna Werner said.
"But we spent $500,000 on false alarms calls last year, so we don't really pay our costs, but it helps," she said. "The prevention class really helps. I tracked the first class. Eighteen people came in with 161 alarms. But after taking the class, that some group had only 50 alarms."
Under Salt Lake's ordinance, the fourth false alarms draws a warning letter from Werner and a notice about the alarm prevention class. On the seventh alarm, Werner sets up a face-to-face meeting to talk with the offender. After that, the fines are assessed.