DURHAM -- Starting New Year's Day, Durham property owners who accidentally trip their alarm systems could be charged as much as $300 for each false call.
The Durham City Council approved the new rules this past summer in an attempt to lessen the burden on fire and police personnel often forced to respond to false calls at the same homes and businesses again and again, potentially drawing resources away from real emergencies. The city responded to more than 17,000 false calls in 2003 at an estimated cost of $2.5 million.
Residents are allowed up to two false alarms a year without penalty, but after that the property owner will be charged fines that escalate with the number of unnecessary calls.
In addition, any company that installs alarms must now register with the city or face a $100 fine. The registration requires proof that the company holds a state license to perform such work.
Originally, the new alarm ordinance also required individual property owners with an alarm system to sign up with the city and pay a $25 registration fee. But after a letter went out to property owners whose names were obtained from alarm companies about the one-time charge, many called those on the City Council to complain. Though the council voted overwhelmingly to approve the new rules, some on the panel said they didn't know about the registration fee.
Last week, the council voted to make the registration free and voluntary for those who own alarm systems but have not had a false call. Citizens who have already paid the $25 fee will receive a refund.
Registration becomes mandatory, however, after the first false alarm. When police or fire officials respond to a false alarm at a business or residence, the owner will be sent a written 30-day notice to obtain a permit. After 30 days, a second false alarm will result in a $100 fine for not having the permit.
The revised ordinance also mandates that any alarm system connected directly to 911 or any number at the police or fire departments be disconnected by Sunday. After that, police and fire personnel will not respond to any alarm unless it first goes through a private monitoring service.
NEW RULES FOR FALSE ALARMS
A police or fire alarm is deemed false if the responding units find no evidence of unauthorized intrusion, or attempted unauthorized intrusion, robbery or attempted robbery, evidence of fire or medical emergency. False alarms include accidental, avoidable and unnecessary alarm activation because of user error, equipment malfunction, and improper or unsuited equipment.
The penalties get worse the more false calls a homeowner has within one year:
FIRST AND SECOND: Written notice
THIRD AND FOURTH: $100 each
FIFTH AND SIXTH: $150 each
SEVENTH AND EIGHTH: $200 each
NINTH: $250 each
10TH: $300 each
Alarm permits can be downloaded from the city's Internet site at www.durhamnc.gov or obtained by contacting the city's business license office at 560-4700. Those seeking more information are encouraged to dial Durham One Call at 560-1200.
CITY OF DURHAM