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Fines prove effective in reducing Paducah false alarms

BY CORIANNE EGANcegan@paducahsun.com

Most nights, it happens at least once. Police officers are called to a building for a security alarm activation. They search the premises, look for signs of forced entry, then wait for a key holder to arrive. The entire process can take up to an hour in some cases.

"It's time that our officers aren't able to police," Paducah police Capt. Mark Roberts said. "We have to assume every alarm is real."

False alarm calls from security systems and fire prevention systems still plagued the city's fire and police departments in 2013, but fines set up a decade ago have brought the number of calls down significantly. The system also brought nearly $14,000 of income into the departments' general funds.

"There's a reason to take care of your alarms now, to get them fixed," Roberts said. "There's a financial incentive. And we aren't out there doing something we don't need to be doing. We are available for real emergencies."

Ten years ago, the city used consultants to look into a growing problem of false alarm activations. The time and effort that came with looking into the alarms and searching different buildings topped $15,000 in 2002. New fines and consequences were put into effect shortly after the study was concluded. Now, the first two activations in one calendar year are free, while the third costs $50, the fourth $75, the fifth $100 and the sixth or more times $150.

Last year, the police department claimed $12,110 in false alarm fines on 1,135 alarms. That money goes back into the general fund. The fire department answered 217 calls, pulling in about $1,800, Assistant Fire Chief Greg Cherry said.

"A lot of people are paying more attention to their alarms," Cherry said. "Testing them once a year, as is required, also helps to show they are in working order and won't go off for no reason."

The police respond to more calls in general because security systems can be triggered by nearly anything moving inside the building. It's for that reason that both departments gladly give city building owners a reprieve for the first two times.

"I've seen a lot of things do it," Roberts said. "A fan blowing promotional balloons to power spikes or strong winds jiggling doors and setting of the sensor. There's even been animals that have gotten inside and set it off. We know all of those things, but we still have to search the building and make sure it's secure. It's better safe than sorry."

Contact Corianne Egan, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8652 or follow @CoriEgan on Twitter.

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