CLEARWATER — Residents and business owners in unincorporated communities or a dozen contract cities will face new fines for false alarms starting July 1.
Those fines could reach $600 per false alarm for repeat offenders who fail to register their systems, authorities said. The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office announced Wednesday that area residents and business owners must now register their alarm systems as part of the long-planned program.
That program could bring the county thousands of dollars in additional annual revenue, while reducing the number of false alarms each year. After receiving more than 14,000 false alarms annually during the past several years, sheriff's Sgt. Larry Nalven said deputies were often pulled away from more pressing duties.
"Our goal here at the sheriff's department is to reduce the number of false alarms," he said.
For registered alarms, residents and business owners will have two "free passes" in any 12-month period, authorities said. They will be charged $75 for the third false alarm, and subsequent cases will result in steeper fines.
For non-registered alarms, the penalties will be harsher. A first-time offender will receive a $175 fine, with repeat offenders facing fines of as much as $600.
While the Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved the program at its Feb. 3 meeting, Nalven said his office has worked on the new plan for about a year.
Pinellas County's program will be the melding of similar policies already in place in Hillsborough County and at the St. Petersburg Police Department, Nalven said.
Nalven, however, recognizes that every case is unique.
When it's unclear whether the call is actually a false alarm, Nalven said it's up to the deputies' "experience" to determine whether a ticket is warranted.
There are repeat offenders in the county, he said, and much of the current problem rests with a lack of alarm system training.
Before July 1, Nalven said his office would work to notify residents and business owners about the switch.
These efforts will include phone messages and information on the office's Web site.
When Palm Harbor residents Heidi and George Shimp left their home Wednesday afternoon to return to work, their French doors came ajar.
The alarm system sounded, authorities were notified, only later to find the house at 810 Wai Lani Road was fine.
Heidi Shimp suspected the couple didn't fully close the doors.
"Unless someone actually tried to break in," she said.
If this had happened in July, the couple might have been penalized.
"I think it would be a great expense if they started charging that way," Heidi Shimp said, adding that bills from the security company are already expensive. The couple spends about $400 annually on their security alarm, she said.
But the cost of a break-in can be worse. "Everyone on the street has been hit with robberies," she said.
Brian Spegele can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4154