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False alarms could cost Swain residents

A proposed ordinance could cost Swain County residents money if they don’t make sure their alarm systems are working properly.

Swain County Sheriff Curtis Cochran has asked the county commissioners to pass an ordinance to help recoup costs associated with responding to false alarms at homes.  

Cochran said excessive false alarms are a burden on the sheriff’s department’s limited resources. The department responded to more than 1,000 security alarm calls in 2014. While the department responds to all the alarm calls, rarely is the alarm a legitimate break in or disturbance. Most of the time, the call is the result of a faulty alarm system. 

The purpose of the proposed ordinance is to establish reasonable expectations of alarm users and to ensure that alarm users are held responsible for their systems. 

Whenever a deputy responds to an alarm signal the officer inspects the premises and determines whether the signal was a false alarm. 

If a deputy determines it was, the proposed ordinance says, a written notification will be left at the home and the department will try to find an additional mailing address for the owner to let them know that they have 10 days to repair the faulty alarm. 

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For false alarm responses during a one-year period from the date of the first false alarm, the penalty would be $50 for a second false alarm, $100 for the third, and $150 each for four or more. 

Each penalty would be due within 30 days of notification.

If the penalty goes unpaid, it could be recovered in civil court plus the cost of attorney fees and court costs.

Swain County Manager Kevin King said commissioners would discuss the proposed ordinance at their March 12 meeting before setting a date for a public hearing. He said commissioners had some concerns regarding the ordinance language, specifically the appeal process language.



False alarm issues in Western North Carolina

• Macon County has an ordinance that levies a fee for repeat offenders.

• In Jackson County, an ordinance was drafted and proposed a few years ago, but never passed. It went a step further than simply imposing a fee for repeat false alarm offenders. It would have required second-home and vacation-home owners with security alarm systems to designate a local contact person with a spare key to the house — so if an alarm went off when the house was empty, the sheriff's office could ask the local person to go check on it and shut off the alarm instead of using officers’ time.

• Haywood County does not have a false alarm ordinance and has no interest in adopting one. While false alarm calls can be problematic and do take time, the department answers every alarm call as if it were a true alarm.

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