Oct. 06--Last year, Fredericksburg city police rushed to respond to 1,306 burglar alarms.
Only six were the real deal. The other 1,300 turned out to be false alarms.
In an effort to avoid wasting police resources--and to reduce the chances of accidents between darting police cruisers and regular drivers--the Fredericksburg City Council is raising the fines on repeat offenders.
The council adopted the amendments to its city code at its Sept. 10 meeting after hearing a recommendation from Police Chief David Nye.
According to Nye's memo to the City Council, burglar alarms that are outdated, improperly installed or not well maintained are susceptible to going off without cause.
In 2011, Fredericksburg police answered 1,443 alarms, only 21 of which were determined to be legitimate. That means that during the last two years, 99 percent of the burglar alarms police have responded to have been false.
The new fine schedule takes effect Jan. 1. No penalties are associated with the first two false alarms in a calendar year. After that, fines kick in as follows: third, fourth and fifth false alarms earn $50 fines each, sixth and seventh cost $100 each, eighth and ninth run $250 each, and 10 or more cost the offender $500 each.
Before, each false alarm after the first two in a month would result in a $50 fine.
The city has the authority to revoke or suspend a burglar alarm permit. Under the new ordinance, the department will be allowed to discontinue law enforcement response after notifying the owner in writing.
NOT JUST A CITY ISSUE
The Fredericksburg police are not the only ones dealing with this problem.
The Stafford County Sheriff's Office responded to 4,911 false alarms in 2012, most of which were at residential buildings. Stafford, however, does not issue any fines for repeat false alarms.
If the Sheriff's Office notices that a particular building has a high number of false alarms, it will downgrade the response and work with the building owner to fix the problem, according to Sheriff's spokesman Bill Kennedy.
Spotsylvania County has an escalating fine system for repeat burglar alarms, but the fine is not enforced and the Sheriff's Office does not keep a record of responses to false alarms, according to Sheriff's Capt. Jeff Pearce.
False alarms are not a major problem for Caroline and King George counties, according to their sheriff's offices.
Nationally, 94 to 98 percent of alarm calls are false and account for 10 to 25 percent of all calls to police, according to the most recent statistics available.
According to Nye's memo to council, Fredericksburg police wasted $29,952 in resources last year responding to false alarms. They arrive at that figure by calculating the cost of sending two officers to each half-hour call--at $23.04 per hour.
"They could be proactively patrolling elsewhere," said Fredericksburg Police Department spokeswoman Natatia Bledsoe. "Or they could be responding to another call that is legitimate."
The new ordinance applies only to automatic alarms, not 911 calls or panic alarms.
CITY'S REPEAT OFFENDERS
The amendments to the Fredericksburg city code are based on the model Police Alarm Ordinance suggested by the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police. It is expected to reduce police response to false alarms by 50 to 70 percent, according to Nye's memo.
In Fredericksburg, the majority of alarm calls come from nonresidential buildings, according to Bledsoe.
In 2012, 38 buildings had more than two false alarm dispatches. Of those, 32 had three, four or five false alarms.
Three buildings had six or seven false alarms. The Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center's McKann Center had nine false alarms. And two--Hugh Mercer Elementary School and James Monroe High School--had 10 and 14, respectively.