Chapel Hill Ordinance Credited With Lowering False Alarms

Police in the North Carolina municipality responded to 35% fewer accidental alarms in 2014 compared to the previous year.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – After establishing a false alarm ordinance in 2013, city officials here say the measure has shown some success but more work needs to be done to reduce accidental alarms, according to the Daily Tar Heel.

In October 2013, the Chapel Hill Town Council passed an ordinance designed to reduce the number of accidental security and fire alarms, a costly problem for the town with 95% of calls to public responders in 2012 classified accidental, the newspaper reported.

As of Dec. 31, the town has issued $50,355 in fines and collected about $30,000 under the new ordinance.

“The council had some good deliberation when it was originally passed,” Town Councilman Lee Storrow told the newspaper. “We definitely wanted to incentivize businesses and residents not to have incidental alarms.”

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In comparison with the same period in 2013, the police department has responded to 35% fewer alarms from July 2014, when enforcement began, to December 2014.

The fire department has not seen as significant a reduction in the number of false alarms as the police department, the Daily Tar Heel reports.

Deputy Fire Chief Matt Lawrence said it might be because accidental police alarms are due to human error, while fire alarms usually occur from maintenance issues.

“The majority of police alarms are actions people take – taking too long to put in the code or a pet activating it,” he told the newspaper. “The majority of fire alarms are actually system problems.”

After the ordinance went into effect at the beginning of January 2014, there was a six-month period for public education of the new program before enforcement began in July.

“When we respond to alarms that are accidental, company officers on trucks actually talk to people about what caused it and give them a paper with information,” Lawrence said.

Lt. Josh Mecimore, a spokesman for Chapel Hill Police, told the newspaper the first three accidental alarms do not result in fines. If there are more than that, the fines increase in direct correlation with the number of alarms.

For both four or five accidental alarms, there is a fine of $100 each. Six or seven false alarms result in a $200 fine for each, and eight or nine alarms is a fine of $300 each. For 10 or more alarms, residents are fined $500 for each alarm.

Both the police and fire department believe that, as the program continues, more Chapel Hill residents will learn to prevent false alarms and the number of accidental alarms will continue to decrease, the newspaper reports.

“There is no golden number,” Mecimore said. “There is no specific numerical figure we have in mind. The goal is just to reduce the number of accidental alarms to a more manageable level which frees us up for things like patrolling.”

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