Atlanta police responded to 65,000 burglar alarms last year, and they estimate nearly 62,000 of them were false.
Burglar alarms cry wolf across the metro area, tying up police time that could better be spent patrolling. But as of Sept. 15, Atlanta will try to crack down by requiring home and business owners to register their alarm systems, and by hiring an outside contractor to administer a program of graduated fines for bogus alarms.
Johns Creek, Sandy Springs and Dunwoody are embarking on similar programs, following in the path of Marietta and Cobb County.
The Atlanta Police Department contends false alarms — mostly caused by human error but occasionally by a wandering cat — cost $1.2 million in wasted hours last year.
“People need to learn how to use their alarms,” said Herman Hudson, president of the Old Fourth Ward Security Patrol. “If cops are running around answering false alarms, they don’t have time to run after real ones.”
Police have always been able to write tickets for false alarms, but APD officials acknowledge that apparently either not enough tickets were written or not enough fines were collected to act as a deterrent.
Now Atlanta is contracting with a third party called CryWolf to run the system and ensure the fines get collected.
The law going into effect Sept. 15 calls for fines ranging from $50 to $500 per false alarm, depending on the number of alarms an offender has triggered during the year.
Violators are not fined for the first violation and can avoid a $50 fine on the second by taking a brief online education course on how to better manage their alarm systems.
The programs being instituted in the metro area are similar to ones started in Marietta and Cobb County in 2008 and Fayetteville and Peachtree City in 2012, said John Loud, president of Georgia Electronic Life Safety and Security Systems, which represents alarm companies.
Businesses cause the greatest numbers of calls — largely because of employees bungling the security code, Loud said.
Marietta has seen a huge reduction in false alarms, dropping from nearly 10,000 in 2008 to 2,400 last year, police spokesman David Baldwin said.
“I would say that 98 percent of our calls are false,” he said. “Probably once in a blue moon you will get something where there was some forced entry.”
Based on what has happened in Marietta, as well as in Charlotte, N.C., and Louisville, Ky., the registration programs are expected to bring about a 30 percent reduction in false alarms in the first year, with bigger decreases in subsequent years, APD officials said.
“When you put a financial consequence, you’re going to change behavior,” Loud said.
Marietta’s Baldwin chuckled when asked whether beat officers hate burglar alarms almost as much as burglars.
“People do whatever they can to protect their things or to protect their loved ones, and they have the alarm system because it makes them feel safer,” he said. “That, we definitely understand.”