Pinellas County Sheriff's deputies will today begin ticketing residents and business owners for false alarms from their security systems as part of a long-planned effort to curb numbers of unnecessary deputy responses.
Reducing false alarms allows deputies to focus on more urgent matters and could provide a short-term revenue boost for a county short on funds.
The policy's launch marks the culmination of an awareness campaign that sheriff's Sgt. Larry Nalven described as successful.
As part of the new requirements, residents and business owners must now register security alarms with the Sheriff's Office, or they will face more severe fines for false alarms.
Non-registered, repeat offenders face fines of as much as $600.
About 6,000 residents and businesses have registered so far, he said, but didn't know how many still needed to.
Several business owners and managers Tuesday said they had already registered alarms with no problem.
As part of the program, those who register their security alarms with the Sheriff's Office will receive two "free passes" in a 12-month period.
The new fines are part of a long-planned effort to reduce numbers of false alarms, which have topped 14,000 annually during the past several years.
The new false alarm fines mirror a national trend, as communities across the nation look to economize.
False alarms divert responding deputies from more pressing duties, Nalven said, and instituting fines will encourage residents and business owners to take more care when using security systems.
Both the city of St. Petersburg and Hillsborough County have reported the number of false alarms dropped to half since implementing similar policies in recent years.
As false alarms are expected to drop, revenue from fines could provide a needed boost for a county plagued by budget shortfalls. Pinellas County is facing an $85 million budget shortfall and is poised to eliminate hundreds of jobs.
If Pinellas follows Hillsborough and St. Petersburg by cutting false alarms in half, the county could free up more than $300,000 (based on the $25 per-hour pay rate for sheriff's deputies, the average time it takes to deal with false alarms — roughly an hour — and the reduction of incidents from 14,000 to 7,000).
Official financial estimates for the plan were not available Tuesday.
"That's not my concern," Nalven said. Rather, he's intent on reducing the numbers of false calls.
While Nalven said the awareness campaign was largely successful, not everyone was ready for the new plan.
Phil Wrobel, president of the Indian Rocks Beach Homeowners Association, was surprised Tuesday to learn that members of his association should have already registered their security alarms with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. "I didn't know about it," he told a Times reporter.
According to the plan, responding deputies will have discretion in determining whether a call qualifies as a false alarm.
For cases in which electrical storms set off security alarms, for example, deputies may choose not to issue fines.
In addition, Nalven acknowledged that seasonal residents in some of the affected beach communities won't know to register their alarms.
It's another situation, he said, where the rules aren't set in stone: "That is something that can also be taken into consideration."
Brian Spegele can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4154.