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The real cost of false alarms
Less than 1 percent of alarm calls turn out to be valid
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Although alarm systems might make you feel safer in your home at night, they may actually be pulling officers and deputies away from patrolling the streets and responding to other calls when the alarms turn out to be false.

The majority of alarm calls received by local law enforcement are not actually burglars, intruders, medical emergencies or other emergency situations, according to call records.

In the city of Conyers, out of 3,686 alarm calls received by police in 2011, only 19 of those, or half of 1 percent, turned out to be valid alarms.

In Rockdale County, out of 10,059 alarm calls for deputies in 2011, all but 51 of the calls were either confirmed as false alarms or had no clearance or further action taken. That means only half of 1 percent resulted in an incident report, arrest, or other action.

Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Mark Traylor said his patrol deputies receive about 37,000 calls a year.

Conyers Chief of Police Gene Wilson estimated it takes about 20 to 25 minutes for an officer to respond to and check out an alarm call.

With the proliferation of alarm systems and false alarms, one side effect is that less weight is given to any alarm call that comes in, said Wilson.

“At one time, most houses didn’t have an alarm. If you got an alarm, most alarms were business alarms and half of those would be ones where someone had entered or tried to enter,” Wilson said.

Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Mark Traylor, who heads the RCSO patrol division, echoed the sentiment. Almost all the residential alarm calls turn out to be false alarms, he said. But he warned deputies against getting lulled into being less vigilant.

“That’s something they should not get trapped into,” Traylor said. When visiting the call site, “you don’t know if it’s a good alarm or not.” He said at least two deputies are usually sent to respond to a business alarm call at night.

False alarms can be caused by a wide range of things, said Daniel Drummond, coordinator for Conyers Security Alert, the city-owned alarm company which has about 1600 accounts in Rockdale and Newton counties.

Human error is the largest factor, such as users forgetting a password or setting off a silent alarm and then leaving. Window-rattling thunderstorms can also set off alarms, as can something as simple as a pet or spider moving across a motion sensor. Other vermin, such as squirrels, can sometimes wreak havoc with the wiring and systems

Traylor said alarms in local schools, especially high schools, are often triggered by students and staff inside for afterschool activities.

Drummond said, “All the manufacturers are looking at ways to reduce false alarms. But it’s just something that’s going to happen, whether it’s something in the environment or user error.”

At the Conyers City Council retreat in January, the council and staff considered looking at an ordinance to fine negligent business owners whose alarms might repeatedly be going off falsely.

Wilson described a situation with a local business where a hold up alarm was triggered multiple times whenever a large employee passed the button, causing patrol cars to come racing to the business with lights and sirens. After the third time, a citation was issued, and the alarm button was moved to a location less likely to be triggered accidentally.

The council discussed first hearing from a false alarm expert who will be visiting a conference in Atlanta.