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
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
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.