'False alarms' causing real alarm for Lorain city leaders

The Lorain City Council has passed legislation that will crack down on false alarms from security systems in homes and businesses. The ordinance, which includes fines of $35 after the third false alarm and $75 after the fifth false alarm, comes as false alarms cost the police department an estimated $40,000 per year in lost man-hours.

The council unanimously passed the legislation at a special meeting Monday night.

According to LPD records, officers respond to an average of more than 40,000 calls for service every year. Roughly 8 percent of those calls for service — about 2,400 — are for alarm-related runs. Eight out of 10 alarm runs end up being false alarms, according to police records.

That’s more than 1,900 false alarm calls every year, which is more than five per day.

“Every time we respond to an alarm, that’s a car putting on lights and sirens driving through traffic,” said Lt. Michael Failing. “There’s always the risk of an officer getting hit or something else happening when we respond to an alarm where someone just forgot to set it or they left a window open.”

It’s also a huge drain on resources. Each false alarm run takes, on average, 17 minutes to respond to and later clear. Per department policy, alarm runs also require two officers for safety reasons. Between the two officers, more than a half hour of work time is spent responding to each false alarm.

Over the course of a year, that lost time equates to more than 1,100 man hours, resulting in more than $40,000 in lost time. That lost time precludes officers from doing proactive police work.

"Not only does it prevent them from doing proactive stuff but it [makes] the citizen who’s sitting at home [wait] for a police officer to come take their theft report,” Lt. Failing said. “That alarm is taking priority so that’s another half hour that citizen is waiting to get their theft report. It backs up all of our call logs. “

The newly-passed ordinance places stricter penalties on people whose security systems constantly send out false alarms. According to police records, more than 60 percent of the false alarms come from just a third of all alarm users. There are several repeat offenders.

After two false alarms in one calendar year, the alarm user is required to have their system inspected. After the third false alarm, a $35 fine can be issued per incident. After five false alarms, the fine jumps up to $75.

Alarm dealers are also required to compile a list of properties who have alarm systems and provide the list to the city each year. Alarm companies also have to register with the city each year.

Lt. Failing said the ordinance has enough teeth to be effective while also allowing people the opportunity to correct the issue.

“We want to correct the problem. We don’t want to just fine people,” Lt. Failing said. “A lot of it is user error where people are coming over that don’t know the alarm. This whole new ordinance is built around trying to help them correct the problem. Yes, there are fines if you go over a certain number, but prior to that, there are several places built into the ordinance where [we try to answer], ‘why is this alarm going off. Can we help you correct this?”

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