Alarm ordinance needs changes

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, February 18, 2009

There’s no doubt that the volume of false burglary alarms is causing a hardship on the Suffolk Police Department. According the city of Suffolk, about 95 percent of all burglary, robbery and panic alarm calls that come into Suffolk’s emergency center are false alarms caused by user error, poor installation, poor maintenance and other non-crime related causes. “Suffolk police spend precious hours responding to these calls when they could be at a more urgent situation or taking care of other business,” said Capt. Stephanie Burch with the Suffolk Police Department.

As a result, the city passed an ordinance last year that allows registered alarm owners one false burglary alarm without a charge. After that warning, the second false alarm can result in a $25 fee; the third, $50; and the fourth or subsequent, $100. For a false robbery or panic alarm, the first gets a warning; the second, $50; the third, $100; and the fourth or subsequent, $200. For those who aren’t registered, every occurrence of a false alarm can cost $100.

In addition to the fees, there is language in the ordinance that states that after a customer’s fifth false alarm within a one-year registration period, they may lose police response to future alarms.

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Suffolk isn’t the only municipality to enforce such fees, as others have been forced to provide incentives for people to maintain their alarm equipment and use common sense.

If education isn’t enough to reduce false alarms, the fees might be. However, the city needs to correct the language and must ensure reaction to all alarm calls. Not doing so puts the city and the alarm company in jeopardy of lawsuits. More importantly, that one call that doesn’t get police response might be the call that is occasioned by an actual crime being committed.