Swain sheriff alarmed over false alarms

The Swain County Sheriff’s Office responds to its share of security alarms. Between January and the middle of November, the department has responded to 1,019 such calls — and rarely is there an actual need for its services.

“We may have one call like this, thinking back, where someone is actually in the house,” Swain Sheriff Curtis Cochran informed the Swain County Board of Commissioners recently. 

The sheriff attributed the false alarms to security systems that were not being properly maintained. 

“That’s all it is,” he said. “People are just not servicing and maintaining their equipment.”

Cochran suggested that the county begin levying a fine against property owners whose alarms falsely rally the sheriff’s department to a security call. 

“Maybe give’em one and after that it’s a $50 fee, after that it’s a $100 fee,” Cochran told the commissioners. “Pretty soon they’ll start getting the message and start servicing their equipment.”

The sheriff explained that the calls place a burden on his department’s resources and attention — “some of these calls, they’re not right here close, you gotta drive across the county” — but that not responding was not an option. 

“We go to every call,” Cochran said, “‘cause you don’t know when it’s going to be that one, so we go to every one.”

The more than 1,000 calls that the Swain Sheriff’s Department responds to do not include alarm calls within the limits of Bryson City. Beyond that, the sheriff did not cite a trend, but said the calls ran the gamut.  

“Is a bulk of it coming from non-residents?” asked Commissioner David Monteith.

The sheriff told the board that the alarm calls come from a mix of properties. There are calls to both full-time residents and visitors, both residential and commercial properties. Sometimes it’s a case of a renter forgetting the alarm code. 

The sheriff said that there are also a number of repeat offenders, properties that demand recurring attention because of false alarms.

“I can take you to one house within 2 miles that had five calls within one day,” Cochran said. 

The board instructed the sheriff to start working on drafting an ordinance to address the issue, with fines being applied toward repeat offenders. Such an ordinance will require approval from the commissioners.

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