DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Security alarms are a plus for homeowners and businesses, but when they malfunction they become headaches for law enforcement.
To counter the time spent going to those false alarms, some law enforcement agencies either impose fees on the owners of the alarms or plan to do so.
Taking a cue from the Bangor and Brewer police departments, Dover-Foxcroft selectmen voted Monday to institute a fee schedule starting in July for repeated responses to false security alarms. After the third false alarm to a specific location, the town will charge $50 per hour per response.
Dover-Foxcroft Police Chief Dennis Dyer said Tuesday that his officers have gone about 19 times in the past 18 months to a false security alarm at a Route 15 business. When an officer goes to an alarm and determines the doors and windows are secure, he often has to wait several hours for the key holder to show up, the chief said.
“I’ve seen cases and my guys have seen cases where we’ve [sat] there and no one ever does call us back, so you’re tied up keeping an eye on that place,” Dyer said Tuesday.
In Bangor, those false security alarms really can affect the department.
“We get a lot,” Peter Arno, Bangor’s deputy chief of police, said Tuesday.
The city, which requires a permit for alarms that are connected to a security company, has 724 registered commercial and residential alarms, he said. In 2008, those security systems prompted 2,102 alarms requiring police attention. Arno guessed that in excess of 95 percent were false alarms.
“They do tie our officers up,” Arno said. He said the response time for each alarm is about a half-hour, which removes the officers from their regular patrols. To counter the cost of these calls, the city charges a fee for repeated calls to the same business or home. The city does not charge for the first three responses to the same building, but charges $25 each for calls four through eight, and $100 for calls nine and over, he said.
“If you get multiple false alarms during the course of the year, you’re obviously having some sort of problems with your system. It could be user error, or people coming in and forgetting the code and not turning the alarm off when they go in,” Arno said.
Brewer Police Chief Perry Antone Sr. is well aware of the precious time officers spend chasing false alarms. Brewer adopted an ordinance to deal with these issues in March 1981, and it has been updated twice since then. The city does not charge for up to four responses to false security alarms in one location. After that, how-ever, it charges $15 per response for five to 15 calls, and $30 per response to more than 16 calls at the same location.
While the fees do generate some revenue for the general fund, the reason behind them is to get business owners and homeowners to maintain their alarm systems so police officers can focus on real incidents, Antone said Tuesday.
Greenville Police Chief Jeff Pomerleau said his department has not implemented fees, but with dwindling finances, it might consider it.
“It’s not uncommon for us to go to a residence five or six times in a relatively short time — the problem seems to happen in rashes,” he said. “It takes time and sometimes considerable effort” to go to the calls. “We’ve snowshoed into camps in the middle of the night for false alarms.”
Pomerleau said police rely on business and property owners to do the right thing. If there are repeated alarms in one location, the owner should have the alarm repaired or replaced.
Craig Clossey, deputy chief of the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Department, said false security alarms haven’t been a problem in his county and no fees are charged for the response.