Kansas City, Kan., alarm abusers face criminal charges

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Thursday, April 1, 2004

KANSAS CITY, Kan. - Most habitual speeding offenders eventually find that the fast lane leads to high fines and court appearances.

Property owners here are facing similar consequences for failing to pay fines associated with false alarms.

Five individuals appeared in municipal court in mid-February to answer criminal charges for defaulting on false alarm fines. Three of the accused homeowners were convicted, while two pleaded not guilty and at press time were awaiting trial dates. City officials expect to charge more than 20 local residents, some of the city’s worst false alarm offenders, for the same offense within the coming months.

But that number may decrease. According to Julie Bahr-Kostelac, the alarm coordinator with the city, since the ordinance has been made public many security system owners have called to check on their status.

“Once it was in the paper and on the news, I had quite a few calls the next day to make sure that owners were current with their permits, to check how many false alarms they had and if they had an outstanding balance,” said Bahr-Kostelac. “So it has had a positive effect.”

Even so, false alarms have been a huge drain on police and fire personnel resources nationwide. Norma Beaubien, the director of the Montgomery County, Md., Police Depart-ment’s false alarm reduction section, believes false alarms will continue to be a problem as long as system owners regard the issue as indifferent.

“A false alarm is like calling 911 and hanging up,” she said. “I believe alarm users will not take the offense seriously if the fines do not have meaning.”

The National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association agrees. Although the NBFAA has developed its own model to help curb false alarms, they are in support of the city’s move to prosecute repeat offenders.

“I believe there are people who are trying to skirt the issue. They have registered their alarms, but they are not paying the fines,” said Dr. Rick Ostopowicz, communications manager at the NBFAA. “We want to help promote responsible alarm usage.”

Kansas City’s ordinance states that alarm owners, whose systems notify police and fire departments either directly or through a monitoring service, must have systems registered with the city and are allowed three free false alarms per year.

If the count rises above five, the fines start accruing. If a fine is past due more than 45 days, the ordinance is considered violated. If found guilty, delinquents must pay the outstanding fines owed, as well as a fine imposed by the trial judge and court costs.

Bahr-Kostelac said at this time offenders are not facing jail time, but this may change as the program, currently in its inaugural year of operation, progresses.

“I don’t know if that will come into play or not,” she said.

Regardless of whether incarceration will ever be entered into the fold, false alarms will continue to surface, and according to Beaubien, the problem is more than just a simple annoyance.

“The bottom line is officer safety,” she said. “If we lose one officer, it is one too many.”