Police are getting tired of alarming mistakes.

When burglar alarms go off in businesses and homes, officers have to respond. But they find an actual burglary or robbery only 2 percent of the time. The rest of the time, it's a false alarm."It eats at them," Terry Opheikens, alarm enforcement coordinator for the Salt Lake City Police Department, said about the officers. "Especially in the last few years when we haven't had any time. I had one alarm last year going off twice a week. One weekend it went off four times."

Salt Lake City wants to make people pay when their alarms go off needlessly. The City Council is considering an ordinance that would give people three free false alarms per month or seven per year. After that, each false alarm would cost $15 for each officer that had to respond.

The fines would replace the $25 fee people now must pay when they install alarms. That fee generates $8,625 per year. If the fines are imposed, the city plans to reap $172,920 the first year.

The council will hold a public hearing on the ordinance May 7 at 6:30 p.m. in the City Council chambers, 415 S. State.

"The fee system, hopefully, will get people's attention," Opheikens said. "Hopefully, it will make them quicker to take care of the problem. If you have someone with a real bad alarm, they are using the police as a private security agency to constantly check their property. That's an abuse of the system."

Police said human error is the top cause of false alarms. A business or homeowner will forget about the alarm and accidentally set it off. But weather also is a culprit. If a window isn't properly caulked, the wind can whistle through and make an alarm think a burglar has entered.

"If it was a weather condition, where it's not the owner's fault, they won't have to pay," Opheikens said.

Other cities along the Wasatch Front already charge fees for false alarms, as does the Salt Lake County sheriff's office. Sheriff's officials said 99 percent of the alarms they respond to are false. They also charge $15 for every police unit that responds.

"Under our ordinance you have to have someone re-spond to the alarm with a key within 30 minutes. If they do not, it is treated as a second response for the same occasion," an official said.

Only alarms on city-owned property are tied directly to the city's dispatchers.


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Crying wolf

Salt Lake City wants to begin charging $15 for every officer responding to a burglary or robbery alarm that rings needlessly. The charge would begin after either the third false alarm in the same month or the seventh in a year. Here is how other police departments handle the problem:Salt Lake County Sheriff: $15 charge for every car responding after the third false alarm per month or the seventh per year.

South Salt Lake: $10 fine for every false alarm over three a month or 12 per year. (Officials said they don't enforce the ordinance.)

Sandy: In the process of drafting an ordinance.

Murray: $25 fine after the first one in a three-month period. (Officials said they don't enforce the ordinance, despite 2,123 false alarms in 1990.)