posted on Thursday, September 6, 2007 3:24 PM by klehan

Columnist: Fines Too High for Working Alarm System

Kathleen Merryman, columnist for The News Tribune, says fines are too high for alarm systems that – gasp – call the police when the sensors say something is amiss. Excerpts taken from Merryman’s September 1, 2007 column titled “A high fine for alarms is what’s truly false."

In the 20-plus years we’ve lived in our home, we’ve been burgled and prowled at least eight times.

We call 911. We wait outside for a deputy. We ask neighbors if they’re OK, and if they saw anything. We give the deputy a tour of the mess and an idea of what’s not there any more.

We listen to the deputy tell us our stuff probably won’t be coming back. And we should buy an alarm system.

We did. 

The first one wasn’t connected to a call center. It just made a lot of noise, enough to alert neighbors. It didn’t work, because the jerk who broke in picked a time when the neighbors were gone.

Buy an alarm system connected to real people, the deputy advised.

So we invested in the system and make the monthly payments on it.

At first, it did what every new system does. It revealed its little problems and the things we did not know about it. It went off when a Valentine mylar balloon migrated to the dining room. A friend with a key forgot the code.

We pay. We learn how not to set off a false alarm. We’re pretty typical.

Now our system is working as we hoped it would: It has gone off for no apparent reason.

By that I mean that it scared away the bad guy, or guys.

The problem is that whoever was trying to steal our stuff was not kicking in a door. He was jimmying a screen. Smart criminal. Anyone driving by would notice someone trashing a door. But a guy fiddling with a window could be making repairs.

We found the screen, reported it and avoided a fine.

We were lucky. The burglar left a clue. 

Had he not, we’d have been out $250. Though the alarm did what it was supposed to do, it would have been ruled false.

But I object to fining people for installing alarms. They pay for these systems because officers tell them it’s the right thing to do, for their protection and that of the community.

Then, when the alarms work and scare off the bad guys, they get a bill.

The Pierce County Council members will consider reducing the false alarm fine from $250 to $100 at its Sept. 25 meeting. When they do, they should ask whether these are sloppy calls, or the alarms doing their job.

They should vote against fining people who are doing what they can to fight crime.