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Police consider fines for repeated false alarms

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Two police departments are considering charging fees to property owners whose security alarms repeatedly go off when there is no emergency.

Each time police get an alarm call, officers treat the incident like it’s an emergency. But most security alarms are tripped by accident and pull officers away from other duties, police officials said.

Now, the New Whiteland Police Department and the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office are looking to try to cut down on the number of repeated false alarms by imposing fines.

The fees would be charged if officers have to respond to any address multiple times for a security alarm that is tripped accidentally or malfunctioning, said Sheriff Doug Cox and New Whiteland Town Marshal Ed Stephenson. Police officials have recently started discussing the fee. Rules and dollar amounts haven’t been set, and the fines would have to be approved by the Johnson County Council and New Whiteland Town Council before they could be implemented.

“It’s a use of the police resources for no reason. There’s nobody at the house, and there’s no crime being committed. It’s continued use of the police resources, which are limited,” Stephenson said.

The sheriff’s office responded to an average of more than three alarm calls per day last year, while Greenwood police averaged more than four alarms a day.

Police respond to alarms as an emergency, sometimes at high speeds with lights and sirens on, which can create a danger on the road for both the officer and other drivers.

“Keep in mind a lot of those the officers are running hard and putting the public in danger,” Cox said.

Police can’t tell whether an alarm going off is due to a break-in or accident until they get to the address, and multiple calls to the same location can lead to officers becoming lax in responding, Stephenson said.

Greenwood police responded to 1,636 alarms in 2012, with nearly all of those being false alarms, assistant chief Matt Fillenwarth said.

The department has discussed a fee in the past but never approved one, he said.

Fillenwarth didn’t think a fee would have much of an impact, because most business owners try to address any problems quickly because they, too, are called out when the alarm is tripped.

“We’ll contact them if their alarm is becoming a problem. Most businesses, the alarm company usually calls the keyholder before they call us. You don’t get a lot of repeats, because those people are being woken up in the middle of the night,” he said.

New Whiteland is looking at the fee as one way to encourage people to avoid accidentally setting off alarms or to get broken security systems fixed quickly, town council president John Perrin said.

Perrin’s mother-in-law received a $25 fine from Indianapolis police after accidentally setting off her home alarm system two or three times.

Indianapolis Metropolitan Police issue one written warning and then begin charging fines of $25 to $200 for each false alarm after that.

The fines in New Whiteland wouldn’t be very large and aren’t being considered as a moneymaker, he said.

The sheriff’s office, however, is looking at false alarm fines as one way to raise some additional money. Last year, the county council asked Cox to find ways increase revenue.

The sheriff’s office responded to 1,156 alarm calls in 2012.

If the county adopted fines similar to Marion County, Johnson County might be able to generate $20,000 to $30,000 per year, Cox said.

Neither department has decided how much fines would be and when they would be assessed.

The fines wouldn’t be charged to someone who accidentally set off a home alarm for the first time, but officials haven’t decided how many false alarms it would take before fines would start.

Officers would have discretion to determine whether to issue a fine once the rules are developed, Cox said.

For example, thunder during a powerful storm can set off multiple alarms throughout the county, and that wouldn’t be the fault of the property owners.

The sheriff’s office also would have to find a way to track which homes or businesses officers have responded to multiple times.

Cox wasn’t sure he had a staff member in his office who would have time to manage the billing and payments on fines.

He also is looking into other fees the sheriff’s office could begin charging and said the false alarm fines probably wouldn’t be considered by the county council until later this year.

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