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Pinellas County proposed ordinance seeks to curb false alarms

Pinellas County is preparing to launch a new false alarm-reducing ordinance July 1, but security industry analysts say those measures aren't enough.

Along with penalizing residents for false alarm calls, they say more stringent enforcement of an existing Florida statute should be part of the plan.

Numbers of false alarm responses by Pinellas County deputies in recent years climbed to more than 14,000 annually.

Reducing that number, authorities say, is both a matter of public safety and government efficiency.

The new policy looks to reduce unnecessary deputy investigations by penalizing residents and business owners for false alarms.

The Sheriff's Office has requested that residents and business owners in unincorporated areas and 12 contract cities register their alarms before July 1. Failing to do so could result in fines up to $600 for repeat false alarm offenders.

The St. Petersburg Police Department and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office have implemented similar policies in recent years. Those efforts parallel a growing national trend.

Law enforcement officials, politicians and security company executives have collaborated in recent years to ease the burden on responding police officers and sheriff's deputies.

"We work very closely with law enforcement," said Ann Lindstrom, spokeswoman for ADT. Efforts to curb false alarm instances are in everyone's interest, she said.

Both Hillsborough County and St. Petersburg have seen substantial drops in recent years.

Hillsborough County reported false alarms have been cut in half since 2003.

St. Petersburg officials reported a drop from 13,000 to about 7,000 false alarms between 2002 and 2007. The number unexpectedly jumped to about 11,000 false alarms in 2008.

But recent local government approaches to slashing false alarms aren't enough, said Ron Walters, director of field operations for the Security Industry Alarm Coalition. He said the most effective false alarm reduction policies also place significant responsibility on security company agents.

Before contacting police, security companies should twice attempt to reach residents or business owners before reporting the alarm to authorities, Walters said. As many as half of all Florida security companies aren't doing this, he said.

That's despite a Florida statute requiring agents in most instances to follow up initial phone calls before contacting police. Known as Enhanced Call Verification, it's a difficult policy to enforce, Walters and government officials agree.

"We don't need to spend any money or time to bring about over 90 percent compliance," of the existing statute, Walters said.

By ensuring security companies make the second call before contacting emergency personnel, false alarms could fall by 25 percent, he said.

That's because follow-up phone calls often reach residents or business owners who then confirm the alarm was inadvertent, he said.

As many as half of Florida security companies don't follow this regulation, he said.

"Once the reduction is achieved, you can stop asking the question and still maintain lower levels of response requests," he said.

Keith Lilly, president of locally based All Phase Security Systems Inc., said licensed companies throughout Florida are already making second phone calls. It's part of required training, he said.

As security alarms have become more popular, so too has the need to curb false alarms, they say. More than 90 percent of total reported security alarms are unwarranted, according to official estimates.

By responding to dozens of false alarms each day, Pinellas County sheriff's Sgt. Larry Nalven said, authorities were potentially unable to respond to more serious calls.

For Walters, part of the answer is already on the books.

"It's a matter of enforcing laws that are already in place," Walters said.

Brian Spegele can be reached at bspegele@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4154.

Pinellas County proposed ordinance seeks to curb false alarms 05/28/09 [Last modified: Thursday, May 28, 2009 8:24pm]
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