Springfield, Mass., considers fine for false alarms

AMHERST - Homeowners and business owners may begin paying fines if police are repeatedly dispatched to answer false security alarms.

Town meeting will consider a false alarm bylaw later this month and, if approved, the fines would mount with repeated police responses. The Select Board recently supported the bylaw. Easthampton and Northampton are among communities that have adopted such bylaws.

If the bylaw is adopted by Town Meeting, police would issue warnings for the first three responses and then impose a $50 fine on the fourth. Subsequent false alarms would result in fines of $75, $100, $150 and $200.

The proposal was initiated by Stanley F. Gawle, treasurer of Amherst Taxpayers for Responsible Change. The idea is to reduce the number of police calls and to generate revenue.

Gawle said in one year there were 404 false alarms at businesses and 159 at homes, and each alarm requires two police officers to respond.

Police Chief Charles L. Scherpa said 99.9 percent of the alarms are false, and 75 percent are false alarms at repeat addresses.

"It's a major safety issue," he said. "We've become complacent." He said that when an alarm sounds officers must respond quickly to what could be an emergency, and they are taken away from other work.

"Stan looks at it as a revenue source. I look at it as safety," Scherpa said.

He blamed most false alarms on laziness. He said people forget a code or fail to deactivate an alarm and enter the building anyway - including municipal buildings.

"I, for one, applaud this plan," said Select Board Chairman Gerald S. Weiss. "You have police racing through town (to answer an alarm). You're using the force to do nothing. It's not a good use of your time."

Scherpa said, based on numbers from 2006, the town would have brought in $10,000 to $11,000 in fines.

Scherpa told the Select Board that he sees the bylaw being enforced beginning in 2009 so property owners could be amply warned. "I really think this will be a deterrent," he said.