Merced residents could be fined for false burglar alarms

Burglar alarms are designed to prevent crimes, but city leaders in Merced say excessive false alarms are taking officers away from real emergencies.
February 3, 2014 12:00:00 AM PST
Burglar alarms are designed to prevent crimes, but city leaders in Merced say excessive false alarms are taking officers away from real emergencies.

City officials say Merced police responded to more than 5,000 burglar alarms last year, and nearly 98 percent of them were false alarms. Monday the city council considered an ordinance to fine people who have ongoing issues with their alarms. But the idea has some school leaders concerned.

Burglar alarms are installed in thousands of homes, businesses, schools, and other facilities across the city of Merced. But local leaders say police are spending way too much time responding to false alarms each year.

"It works out to be about $350,000 of resource time that's allocated that the officers could have been doing other things," City Of Merced Spokesperson Mike Conway said.

In fact, the city says officers responded to 5448 alarm calls last year, and only 120 of them were true alarms. That's why the council is now considering an ordinance that would require residents to pay fees when their alarms go off because of human error. That includes school districts.

"The numbers really add up quickly for us because we have 17 sites and different facilities too." Associate Superintendent Greg Spicer with the Merced City School District said.

The city says public elementary and middle schools make up 30 percent of the false alarms...more than any other group. But associate superintendent Greg Spicer believes that's because so many students, staff members, and others use the facilities after hours. He says it's critical for the campuses to have adequate security, so the ordinance is a concern.

"It's kind of one of those balances that's kind of hard to get and we'll re-look at now that it's going to likely cost us more money in the fines for having too many alarms at the different sites," Spicer said.

The CEO of Hoffman electronic systems the best way for most owners to avoid fines is to pay attention to their alarm and train employees who may use it. But he does not believe the ordinance would prevent people from buying or using security systems.

"I don't think so, the ordinance itself because they do give you two false alarms at no cost, and then they start gradually charging. I think who it's going to punish is the repeat offenders, and that's probably who should be punished," Hoffman said.

The fines for most residents would start at 50 dollars and go up to 250. But they are lower for school sites. The council voted to send the issue back to staff for clarification.


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