Special report: False alarms

Reported by Casey Roman - bio|email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - While the sound of safety alarms may guard your home and business, they create a headache for tax payers.

An average of 99% of alarm calls the Wilmington Police Department respond to are false, costing thousands of dollars and service to those really in need.

"It takes hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and hundreds of man hours and officers away from doing other things that we could be doing to protect the citizens and improve the quality of life in our community," said Marshall Williamson, Captain of the Criminal Investigations Division at the Wilmington Police Department.

Several things can trigger a false alarm:

  • an alarm can be armed incorrectly
  • the wrong code can be punched
  • the device fails
  • someone accidentally sets it off

According to Williamson, it takes officers about 30-40 minutes to respond to each alarm.  He says units respond to businesses or other alarms about 2-3 times a night.

Over the past four years, the number of hours spent on false alarms totals more than 41,000 hours.

"If you take the average cost of the vehicle equipment, the gas, the officers time that they have to sit and wait for people to come, its hundreds of thousands of dollars," said Williamson.

A total of $572,308 has been spent on false alarms since 2005.  But, that figure is only based on one officer responding - when most alarm calls send additional units.

It's not just the police who respond to the calls, the Wilmington Fire Department has responded to 5,705 false fire alarms since 2005.

96% of the time an automatic alarm comes in, firefighters slide down the pole, head out the door, and put on all the heavy gear just to turn an alarm off.

"Obviously those pieces of equipment cost money to operate, we got firefighters, fuel expenses, maintenance [and] that does add up over time," said Wilmington Fire Chief Frank Blackley.

False fire alarms can add up to a problem larger than money.  When the truck heads to a bogus call and a real emergency signals, trucks from another station have to help.

"We have to have another truck come from a station that's you know several miles away which delays response," said Blackley.

While the Police and Fire Departments know that most false alarms are an accident, next spring residents will begin paying a fine.

No fine will be enforced on the first two false alarm, but when a third one rings, you'll pay $100 if police respond and $150 if firefighters service the call.

Every false alarm after that will have you paying police $150 and the fire department $200.

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