Baltimore County police, who say a new law fining businesses and residents for repeated false alarms cut the number of false alarms by 12 percent last year compared with 1998, call the law a success.
"Nobody is happy about paying the fee, but almost everyone realizes a false alarm wastes police resources," said Steven R. Heggemann, who manages the county's Alarm Reduction Team. "Those numbers would have kept growing and growing."
The law imposes fines of $50 to $1,000, depending on the number of violations in a 365-day period. The money collected from the fines goes to the county's general fund.
In a report released yesterday on the first year of the county's alarm reduction effort, county officials said there were 75,758 false alarms last year, down from 86,499 in 1998, a 12 percent decrease.
Police said the law had a stronger effect on businesses than on residents. False alarms at businesses in the second half of 1999 were 28 percent lower than in the same period in 1998. False home alarms dropped 17 percent during the same period.
County police receive approximately 470,000 calls for service each year.
Police also said many more people called to cancel false alarms before officers arrived at the building last year compared with the previous year, allowing them to avoid a fine.
Officials estimate that an officer spends 10 minutes on each false alarm call. In addition to the cost, officials fear that responding to numerous false alarms could lead officers to let down their guard.
"When [an officer] becomes complacent, that's when [they] are in danger," said Cpl. Vickie Warehime, a county police spokeswoman. "That's why our officers treat each call as though it is a real alarm."
Anne Arundel County has a similar false alarm program. Howard County officials are considering a program, estimating that responding to false alarms is costing about $1 million a year.