Town to start charging hourly rate for police response to false alarms

New and different alarm ordinance puzzles industry
Thursday, April 22, 2010

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine—The selectmen here in this small rural town voted April 12 to institute a new and unique fee schedule starting in July for repeated responses to false security alarms in the municipality: After the third false alarm to a specific location, the town will charge $50 per hour per response.

According to Dover-Foxcroft Police Chief Dennis Dyer, an inordinate amount of resources in the form of officer time and taxpayer dollars are wasted through the worsening false alarm problem. “We’ve got one big drugstore chain and we’ve had alarms there where the people never show up. The alarm just goes off all night along. We make the call and they either go back to bed or they just don’t worry about it,” Dyer said. “So we’re trying to curb that problem and eliminate some of those calls.” The town did not seek input from the security industry in the development of the ordinance, according to Dyer.

SIAC director Stan Martin said he had never heard of a municipality charging an hourly fee for false alarm response. SIAC executive director Ron Walters said it wasn’t unusual for key holders to not show up to false alarms in instances where the alarm is tripped at a currently unoccupied vacation home.

Dyer agreed that in Dover-Foxcroft, distance between the key holder’s residence and the alarmed site could sometimes lead to long wait times for responding officers. “We get a lot of alarms—Dover-Foxcroft’s not that big, 42- 43-hundred people—and some of the people who work here may live quite a ways away in Bangor,” Dyer said. “And if they do, you have to wait for them to show up, and we’ve got a 135 square miles and I’ve only got one guy on at nighttime … So we give ‘em the first three free. I would think a common person would say, ‘Gee I’ve had three of these in a month. Maybe I should straighten this out.’ The fourth one, you’re going to be charged for. I’m not saying if we stay for five minutes you’ll get charged, but if we have to be there for any length of time, you’ll be getting a bill from the town.”

Alarm Center, Inc. dealer program manager and SIAC field team member Ron Haner said the situation was odd. “The unusual aspect is that the police would feel compelled to stand by awaiting the arrival of an RP [responsible person]. The norm is for the police to check the building or home and, finding it all secure, drive on,” Haner said via email. “If they are talking about standing by at an unsecured site—smashed in door, etc.—that is a different story, and rare. In that instance it is understandable that the police would feel compelled not to leave an unsecured site and the building or home owner should not be too upset about a charge for the police standing by, particularly if they were a long time in arriving.”

Dyer said the problem is that the alarm, even at a site that has been deemed by responding officers as secure, will keep going off and the alarm company will continue to call. “The trouble is that the alarm company will keep calling us back and telling us that the alarm’s still going off. And we realize that because the key holder hasn’t come to shut it off,” Dyer said. “We’re not out to make money. We don’t want to make money, but if there’s something wrong with your alarm and it keeps going off, you have to take care of it. Show up, we’ll go through the building with you.”