Northern California City Institutes Fines for False Alarms


Police in Hercules, Calif., located about 25 miles northeast of San Francisco, will start enforcing stiff fines for false alarms in hopes of cutting down on the time-consuming chore of verifying them, according to a newspaper report.

Three false alarms nets a $150 ticket, and there’s a $200 bill for each false alarm thereafter.

The Hercules City Council joined several others in the Bay Area last summer by adopting an ordinance authorizing the fines, but its small police department needed a bit more time to prepare for tracking and billing for the offense, according to the Contra Costa Times.

Billing begins this month and will include counting false alarms from the first six months of 2007. But the 30-odd residents who already would owe fines get a one-time reprieve, Hercules police Cmdr. Tom Dalby told the newspaper, so none can claim they were not aware of the consequences.

Police do not count false alarms caused by equipment under repair, so long as the owner notifies police in advance, or those caused by electrical or telephone failure, the newspaper reported.

Many other cities in the region have adopted similar ordinances this decade, including Antioch, Walnut Creek, Pittsburg and Brentwood, though enforcement is patchy.

Hercules police counted alarm responses in 2005 and found that in only nine of 1,593 cases was the department notified of a crime in progress. Six of 405 false alarms during the first half of 2007 were warranted, Dalby told the newspaper.

If police had fined false-alarm offenders according to the city ordinance beginning Jan. 1, they would have collected more than $60,000 for the city’s general fund, according to Dalby.

“I’ve been to ones where somebody had a birthday, and they have a bunch of balloons at their desk. When the air conditioning kicks on, it moves the balloons, causing the alarm to go off,” Dalby said. “But usually it boils down to some sort of owner error.”

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