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Calif. city to start fining for false alarms

Billing commences this month as police department begins enforcement of ordinance passed in 2006

By Karl Fischer
Contra Costa Times

HERCULES, Claif. — Hercules residents gained new reason to bone up on their burglar-alarm owner’s manuals this month.

Police will start enforcing stiff fines for errant alarms in hopes of cutting down on the time-consuming chore of checking on them. Three false alarms nets a $150 ticket, and there’s a $200 bill for each false alarm thereafter.

The City Council joined several others in the Bay Area last summer by adopting an ordinance authorizing the fines, but Hercules’ small police department needed a bit more time to prepare for tracking and billing for the offense.

They’re ready now.

“Quite a few have already gone over their allotted amount of false alarms this year,” Hercules police Cmdr. Tom Dalby said. “At certain places, the alarm does go off on a regular basis. We’re trying to work with those residents and businesses to stop the false alarms.”

Billing begins this month, counting false alarms from the first six months of 2007. But the 30-odd residents who already would owe fines get a one-time reprieve, Dalby said, so none can claim they did not know the consequences.

Police do not count false alarms caused by equipment under repair, so long as the owner notifies police in advance, or those caused by electrical or telephone failure.

“Please consider this a courtesy notice,” read notices mailed this week. “However, you will be billed for any future false alarms ... for the remainder of the calendar year.”

Many other cities in the region have adopted similar ordinances this decade, including Antioch, Walnut Creek, Pittsburg and Brentwood, though enforcement is patchy.

In 2005, Fremont police codified a policy of not responding to any burglar alarms because of excessive false alarms. Critics claimed the change helped produce a 14.4 percent jump in reported burglaries in 2006.

Hercules police counted alarm responses in 2005 and found that in only nine of 1,593 cases was the department notified of a crime in progress. Six of 405 false alarms during the first half of 2007 were warranted, Dalby said.

If police had fined false-alarm offenders according to the city ordinance beginning Jan. 1, they would have collected more than $60,000 for the city’s general fund, Dalby said.

“I’ve been to ones where somebody had a birthday, and they have a bunch of balloons at their desk. When the air conditioning kicks on, it moves the balloons, causing the alarm to go off,” he said. “But usually it boils down to some sort of owner error.”

Copyright 2007 Contra Costa Times