Nearly all burglar alarms in Georgia county
are false alerts, deputy public safety director says

(DEKALB COUNTY, Ga.) -- It's an alarming trend. Of the 144,327 burglar alarms DeKalb police responded to last year, just 39 were legitimate, said J. Barry Woodward Sr., deputy director of public safety.

That's more than 12,000 false alarms a month. Of those, about 2,200 a month happened in Maj. Ron Slade's east precinct.

That's about 70 false alarms in the precinct per day, or more than 20 per shift. It's enough that Slade designates one officer whose sole job it is to respond to false alarms. Sometimes he has two officers on false alarm detail, he said.

"It's a very big depletion of resources," Slade said.

The problem looks to get worse. Woodward said more DeKalb residents are getting alarm systems, and the alarm systems do more --- including alerting dispatchers to fire and medical emergencies.

"We won't roll an ambulance until police and fire check it out," Woodward said.

Woodward said a call can tie up an officer for up to 30 minutes, though most false calls take far less time. Woodward said police respond to calls only when a monitoring service --- i.e., a human being --- calls 911 to alert police the burglar alarm has been tripped.

Nevertheless, DeKalb police don't discourage the use of burglar alarms. In fact, Slade said they can be quite helpful to police. Advanced alarm systems with motion detectors and noise sensors can pinpoint the location of a burglar while the crime is in progress.

"I've never discouraged somebody from putting in an alarm," Slade said.

The county also fines those responsible for more than four false alarms a year.

In July, the County Commission approved raising the fine from $25 to $100 for business owners and residents whose alarms sound more than four times in one year. The fee is levied on the fifth and all successive alarms.

"If we know it's a lightning storm, that's not counted against them," Woodward said.

The county collected $177,096.50 in penalties last year, said Marvin Davis, deputy finance director for the county.

Regardless of revenue, Woodward said the department would rather have fewer false calls.

"We want to make sure we're not depleting our resources," he said.

The people with the greatest power to decrease the number of false alarms are the people who own them.

"A key to preventing false alarms is to be in contact with your security company and for your security company to be in contact with you," said Amanda Johnston, communications manager for the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association, in Silver Spring, Md.

Johnston said alarm users should be sure their service providers know when they are at home and when they are away. Also, they should be sure to let the company know when there's going to be a visitor at the home.

When considering an alarm system for your home, consider these tips from the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association:

> Make sure the system covers the entire perimeter of your home.

> Consult at least three companies. Ask what's included in the contract and expect an installation fee. If you lease, ask about installation and the monthly monitoring fee. The average installation cost is $1,000 with monitoring at $20 per month.

> An alarm system has these typical components: a siren to let intruders know they've been detected, magnetic contacts on doors, motion and glass-breaking detectors, key pads with visual display and smoke detectors outside sleeping areas.

> Know how to use the alarm control planner. The installer who arrives to activate your system should be sure you understand how to use controls to prevent false alarms.

(iSyndicate; The Atlanta Journal and Constitution; Nov. 9, 2000). Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

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