Virginia Beach increases fines for false alarms

Virginia Beach, Va. - Police responded to burglar alarms at Lynnhaven Mall 107 times over a recent 12-month period. An alarm at a Hertz equipment rental store on South Military Highway summoned help 46 times.

Problem was, all were false alarms. To combat what police call a "colossal waste of energy," the City Council has raised fines for false alarms from $25 to $150-$250. The city also is considering requiring all alarm owners to obtain a $10 permit to register with police.

The increases, which kick in on the third false call, likely will take effect early next year. The council still needs to approve the mandatory registration, which faced no hostility at a council meeting this week.

"Unfortunately, I think it may be necessary, based on the statistics we have," Councilman Bob Dyer said.

Everyone with existing alarms will have to register them. Failure to do so could place residents and businesses on a "do not respond" list, police said.

Police responded to 22,231 false alarms over a 12-month period in 2006 and 2007, a figure equivalent to 11,000 hours of manpower. Burglar alarms generate many calls, and repeat offenders are drains on time .

"If we're coming out once a month, something is definitely wrong," said Jim Cervera, deputy police chief.

Police responded to false burglar alarms at Lynnhaven Mall more than 100 times between December 2006 and November 2007, statistics show.

"This is a security-related matter, and that's something we typically don't discuss," said John Westbrook, the mall's general manager. "If we did, it could possibly make it difficult for us to secure the mall."

Malls create false-alarm calls because many stores and kiosks have their own systems, which employees don't always know how to use, said Lt. Theresa Orr.

"If you're going to have a 17-year-old open the store, you've got to give the 17-year-old the alarm code," she said.

Employees don't appear to be the problem at the Hertz store.

A giant tarp rolled up out back has become a home for "critters," stray cats and raccoons that trip a motion detector connected to the burglar alarm, said employee Scott Baxter.

"We don't call the police anymore," he said. "We tell them don't worry about it."

Permit fees and fines are estimated to generate $1.1 million in the first year, police said.

They expect to start the alarm registration program early next year, which police hope will create more user accountability, Orr said.