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Localities Crack Down on Homeowners Alarm Calls

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Localities Crack Down on Homeowners' Alarm Calls

Cry wolf and you're going to be fined, is what many homeowners and businesses are learning when their security systems trigger a false alarm. Police in towns across the county are starting a zero-tolerance policy for the bogus alarm calls. Be sure to check your windows and doors before activating your security system, or it could cost you. Fortunately for errant homeowners, some creative jurisdictions allow violators to escape penalties by taking a remedial false-alarm class.

The problem of false alarms has reached epidemic proportions in some jurisdictions. Oxnard, California, a town of 160,000 is the capital of misfired security alarms. Of the 6,931 alarm calls received, 98.8 percent were false. Each time police respond, it costs the taxpayers $62.04. Oxnard racked up a total bill of $424,725 last year.

In Kansas, local officials are taking out their frustrations on careless homeowners. Wichita police responded to 32,000 alarms last year, of which only 282 were actual emergencies. The Wichita City Council responded by more than doubling the fines on false alarms from $12.50 to $28. First-time offenders and alarms set off by thunderstorms are excused. So are people who notify the alarm company within two minutes. In Derby, Kansas, your third false alarm gets you a $25 fine; your fourth earns you $50, and the fifth and each subsequent bogus alarm, $75.

In Los Angeles, where 129,000 false alarms were recorded last year, residents are allowed two false calls, and then they get a choice of $80 in fines or a False Alarm Reduction Class. Similarly, Oxnard lets you get away with your first two invalid calls, then the fines start kicking in. By the fourth episode, you're paying $150 per police call. False alarm remedial training is the alternative. Those who graduate get a $150 rebate on their fine, somewhat like traffic school.

What's causing the blunders? Dogs, other pets, ceiling fans, and moving objects as innocent as a bobbing birthday party balloon may trigger motion sensors. Motion detectors can be so sensitive that even dust will set them off. Homeowners come up with intriguing reasons for being sent to alarm reform school, some of the "dog-ate-my-homework" variety. A spider set it off, birds got in through my garage, or the wind moved the drapes. But probably the most common, and legitimate, reason given was forgetting to close a window or door.

Sources used to create this article include writer Jeff Wilson and the Associated Press and Wichita Eagle.