Enforcement of a three-year-old Annapolis law levying fines for false security alarms will begin Sept. 1 as city police start cracking down on businesses and residences.
Property owners will get a pass for the first two false alarms; for the third and fourth within a year, a civil fine of $100 will be assessed.
That jumps to $200 for subsequent false alarms. The clock doesn't start ticking anew until 365 days pass with no false alarm, said Annapolis Police Maj. Scott Baker.
Responding to false alarms costs the city money — an estimated $60 to $65 per officer responding, and sometimes two are sent. It also drains police resources, tying up at least one officer for nearly a half-hour, wasting dispatchers' efforts and burning fuel.
"You are taking away from areas that need more police concentration," Baker said.
In one year beginning in October 2010, "there were almost 2,000 alarms, and 99.8 percent of them were false alarms," Baker said.
Enforcement of Anne Arundel County's 2009 false-alarm law began in 2010, when police contracted with a private company to operate the program. Countywwide, the number of false alarms dropped 24 percent in the first year, from 20,723 in 2010 to 15,833 in 2011, police said.
Before they started the program, police said, of the 31,206 alarm calls in 2008, only 230 involved a crime taking place. The false alarms wasted an estimated 8,582 hours of police time.
Police said the approximately 700 alarm users who had two or more false alarms in the past six months received warning letters from the department in early August. The letter told them that they had violated the law and suggested that they take the rest of the month to work out their apparent security alarm problem before police implement the ordinance. It then listed the fines.
Owners won't be penalized for power outages and severe storms that set off alarms.
The hang-up in implementing the law adopted in 2009 was the lack of an alarm registry in the law — something most jurisdictions include in false-alarm measures and which is mandatory in Anne Arundel County. When police went to send warning letters, they relied on property tax records to identify owners.
Police have created a voluntary registry. As they look to contact or fine alarm users, officers again will turn to public records to find property owners if a location is not registered with police — though the alarm could belong to a business or person renting the site.
"We decided it was too much of a bureaucracy to create," said Alderman Fred Paone, a Republican representing Ward 2 and a member of the city council's public safety committee. The decision came amid concerns that it would require adding a position or diverting an employee from other work.
However, Paone said, after the program is operating, police can return to elected officials if they think a comprehensive registry is needed.
The voluntary registry is accessible through the Police Department's website: annapolis.gov/police.
Police said registering alarm locations will help them reach alarm users in other emergencies as well as deal with false alarms. There is no charge to register an alarm.