Belmont, N.C., to Address False Alarms

Frustrated with soaring numbers of false alarm calls troubling police, city officials in Belmont, N.C., are considering an ordinance that would require residents to buy permits for their security alarms.

It would follow in the footsteps of several other municipalities in the area, including Charlotte, Gastonia, Mount Holly and Weddington.

The Belmont proposal aims to reduce the number of false alarms by requiring home and business owners to register their security systems with police and establishing fines for properties with repeat false alarms.

The registration information would be entered into a database, allowing police to more quickly locate property owners when alarms sound.

Last year, the Belmont Police Department responded to 896 false alarms from security systems, said Capt. Charlie Franklin. The calls distract from other police business and often are time-consuming for officers.

Officers sometimes spend up to 45 minutes waiting to locate the owner of a property with a false alarm.

"Part of the reason for this system is to address the problem with the repeat offenders, the places we regularly respond to out there," Franklin said. He added that he was unsure how many false calls came from repeat offenders and that he did not know the specific names of the places responsible for several of the calls.

He said that many cities already have established regulations for security alarms.

After Charlotte instituted fines for false alarms, false alarm calls there decreased by 30 percent in 1996.

Under a preliminary draft of the Belmont ordinance, a single-housing-unit alarm permit would cost $20 and a business-unit alarm permit would cost $40 annually.

Proposed fines for multiple false alarms would kick in at a property's third false alarm in a calendar year. The suggested fines, which begin at $50 per incident, would jump as high as $500 for those with 10 or more false alarm calls.

The ordinance also specifies that security alarms must reset their siren after 15 minutes and must not automatically dial police if they are tripped. Most alarm systems, when sounded, automatically dial alarm management companies that then notify police, but some older systems are still programmed to directly dial police.

Al Davis, vice president of ADM Security Systems in Belmont, said his company installs about 100 alarm systems a year in the city. He said he supports the proposed changes, provided that they cut down on the number of repeat offenders.

The ordinance, which is still being drafted, would not apply to fire alarms.