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Home alarms still crying wolf

Reid Williams

SUMMIT COUNTY – Two years after the Summit County Sheriff’s Office instituted a policy of sending homeowners a bill

for false alarm calls from security systems, the situation hasn’t improved.

Growth and the Sheriff’s expanded coverage areas might be contributing to increased calls, but false alarms are costing taxpayers money and taking up time from Sheriff’s Office personnel. Sheriff Joe Morales said the only thing that might solve the problem is a law requiring homeowners to pony up an alarm registration fee.

At least one alarm company owner agrees and, what’s more, thinks alarm companies should pay to register, too.

“This is still a big thorn in our side,” Morales said. “You don’t have much in the way of options, you either respond or you don’t. We don’t want to be a business conduit for the private sector, as far as a selling point, but all they do is monitor. That’s why we bill people and stop responding with some.”

In 2000, sheriff’s deputies responded to 622 alarms in Summit County, of which about 99 percent were false, the result of faulty electronics, insects or rodents, contractors, real estate agents or uninformed guests. The call volume was so heavy and kept deputies from other duties often enough, the Sheriff instituted a three-strikes policy. After three false alarms, a homeowner is sent a bill for $50 to cover gas for patrol cars, deputies’ salary and record-keepers’ time. If the homeowners don’t pay, deputies stop responding. If they do pay, the homeowners get three more strikes; but after that, there’s no getting deputies to respond.

“All the alarm company does is call in,” said Sheriff’s Office records clerk Mary Probst. “The deputies are the ones that go out and do the work. Sometimes there’s nothing there. That’s why we send out letters telling them to get it fixed, and they get at least three chances.”

Probst said 316 alarm calls have been deemed unfounded so far this year, and 22 homes have had three or more false alarms. Four homes are on the “no response” list, 13 homeowners have paid their $50 for the year already, and another six owe the department for three responses.

In February, the Sheriff’s Office took over patrolling the town of Blue River, which may have added to the increased false alarms, Probst said. But the problem is not new.

Summit County Commissioner Gary Lindstrom, who formerly worked for the Sheriff’s Office, said in “the good old days,” a company guard came to the house when an alarm went off. But that stopped, and as long as 15 years ago, he and others proposed requiring homeowners to pay a registration fee when they bought a new system. Lindstrom said local alarm companies were adamantly opposed.

“I would look very positively at some sort of resolution or law for registration fees,” Lindstrom said. “I think alarm companies are incompetent, rude and promise a service they don’t provide. They use law enforcement and fire departments as their lackeys.”

Reggie Harmon of Allied Security in Breckenridge said he understands the concern. Harmon said he hates false alarms, and hearing about each weekend’s spate is the worst part of his Monday mornings. But he said alarm companies and emergency providers complement each other.

“They need us to detect crime and help lower the crime rate,” Harmon said. “For fire, the better we detect it, the quicker the fire department can put it out. I think the truth is, the more alarms that are out there, the better they can do their job, because they can’t be everywhere at the same time.”

Harmon said he would love to see the number of false alarms drop by 20 percent – even while growth continues and a greater proportion of homeowners are buying alarm systems. But many things contribute to the problem, including guests and workers coming and going. This summer’s weather might make it worse. Harmon said the early summer has been a boon for spiders, which can set off motion sensors, and the dry heat and wildfires are spewing dust that gums up sensitive electrical apparatus.

That’s why Harmon said he likes the idea of charging homeowners and alarm companies registration fees. Denver charges owners $25 for registering their alarm, he said, and it hasn’t hurt business. Harmon said the Sheriff’s Office also could charge alarm companies $100 for a license. He said the extra funds could not only help offset costs for deputies, but would also give the department accurate knowledge about the number of alarms in the county and what proportion of them suffer from false alarms.

“I don’t know how to totally fix it,” Harmon said. “We have to work together, though.”

Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 237 or rwilliams@summitdaily.com.


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