HOULTON, Maine — Town officials decided last week that they will join a growing list of communities across the state assessing fees to businesses who repeatedly tie up police resources with false security alarms.
During the recent Town Council meeting, councilors voted to amend one of its ordinances in order to help reduce the frequency with which the Houlton Police Department responds to such false alarms. The amendment allows police to charge a business a $50 service fee if the department loses man hours responding to false alarms.
Houlton Police Chief Butch Asselin told councilors that this is something that has been unfolding over time and the department now feels it has to address it.
Asselin said that one business had more than 40 false alarms in one year. Another had more than 20. With those kinds of numbers, he explained, the department is on pace to respond to several hundred alarms a year.
When a business alarm rings into the police department, an officer is dispatched to the scene. The officer has no way of knowing whether it is an actual burglary in progress, the alarm is malfunctioning or an employee has forgotten the alarm code necessary to shut the alarm off. In some cases, alarms can be triggered by pets and other animals in the area.
Asselin said that the department wants to “encourage businesses to keep alarms and to keep them in good working order.”
Asselin said the department has not had an issue with residential alarms.
Councilors questioned the chief about how the department would handle the fine in certain situations, such as if an alarm went off by mistake but the business fixed it quickly. The chief said that if the alarm rang but was turned off before the officer responded to the business, he did not believe it was necessary to levy a fine.
Towns across the state have been examining similar issues over the past few years.
Last year, The Oxford County Sheriff’s Office began working on a new policy on answering burglar alarms after hundreds of false alarms cost the county more than 1,000 man hours in 2011.
Chief Deputy Dane Tripp said that the sheriff’s office answered 327 burglar alarms, but less than 1 percent were actual break-ins. The rest were alarm errors, homeowner errors or rodents and other animals setting off motion detectors.
Bangor and Brewer also have had ordinances that charge home and business owners for false security alarms in place for some time. Dover-Foxcroft selectmen voted in 2010 to institute a fee schedule for repeated responses to false security alarms. Councilors said they felt the ordinance was fair and passed it unanimously.