PIEDMONT -- False alarms in Piedmont -- 648 so far this year -- cost police time and result in fines for repeat offenders.
"We've sent bills over $1,000 a few times, one for $3,000," said Sgt. Brian Haley.
Four false alarms in a calendar year carry a $50 fine. That triples to $150 for five in a calendar year, $300 for six in a calendar year and $100 for each additional occurrence for seven or more in a calendar year.
Usually two officers respond to any alarm registered from the alarm company. Police walk the perimeter of the dwelling or business, look for signs of a break-in and perform other due diligence at the site. That can include entering the dwelling if a door is found unlocked or open.
"We are looking for people inside the dwelling," Haley said. "It could be someone injured, or a housekeeper, a houseguest, a maintenance worker or a burglar." If no one is inside the house, police lock the doors before departing.
It generally takes police 10 to 25 minutes to determine whether an alarm was false or not, because they must respond to every such call.
"Many alarms are very sensitive, and can be triggered by a house pet, or even a large insect that triggers the motion detector," he said.
Sometimes a neighbor will appear while police are at the scene with a key to the house and the alarm code. Other times, a sheepish occupant, such as a visiting relative, realize they have triggered the alarm. Police survey the scene
"There might be a large dog, a high wall or an upper deck preventing full access," the sergeant said.
There are many different types of burglar alarms, from the simple "fire bell" type alarm to sophisticated high-tech ones that videotape the site when the alarm goes off. Depending on the type of service, some alarm companies call the house to see if anyone answers the phone, or call the homeowner's cell phone first. Some alarms are "silent" and others include motion sensors.
Police also encounter false alarms at Piedmont's schools, triggered perhaps by a teacher coming in the evening to pick up materials, or a new custodian.
Haley said fines are considered on a case-by-case basis, such as a homeowner showing proof they have had their alarm repaired so it functions properly. More false alarms seems to take place in the winter months. Haley does not know why.
Police responded to 961 false alarms in 2009; 903 in 2010; and 918 in 2011.
He advises homeowners to have their alarms serviced at least once a year, to save themselves and the police time and money.