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Alarm calls tie up deputies' time

February 02, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

o Bulk of fire alarms caused by a few

Washington County Sheriff Douglas W. Mullendore estimates each response to a security alarm call ties up deputies for about an hour.

Because two deputies are dispatched to each call and deputies make about $35 per hour, Mullendore figures each call costs about $70. Therefore, responding to 3,831 false alarms last year cost more than $250,000, he said.

It's also the equivalent of removing 3.68 deputies from the department's staff, or cutting deputies by 8 percent, Mullendore said.

Deputy Tracey Peyton, who, like most deputies, responds to false alarm calls on a daily basis, offered to explain how all that time is spent.

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On a typical alarm call, two deputies are dispatched to a business or a residence, sometimes with information from the alarm company about the origin of the activation, such as broken glass, a panic alarm or an interior motion sensor, Peyton said.

No matter how frequent the false alarms get at any given location, deputies are required to treat each one as an emergency, he said.

Criminals have been known to activate false alarms in an attempt to scope out response procedures or throw deputies off guard, he said.

"You can't use the 'boy who cried wolf' analogy because it's our job to respond," he said.

The first deputy to arrive checks for anything out of the ordinary, and circles the building for broken windows or open doors. Before entering the building, the deputy must wait for backup to arrive.

Depending on the location, getting two deputies to the site can be the most time-consuming part of the response, Peyton said.

Often, there is no one at the business or residence, and the department attempts - sometimes without success - to contact a representative who can let deputies in and check things out.

If a door is open, deputies go in and check for someone inside or obvious signs of trouble, such as pulled-out drawers or wires from a disconnected TV, Peyton said. If a resident or business key holder isn't there, it can be impossible to tell if anything is out of place, he said. Deputies leave a card and lock up as best they can.

If deputies are close to the call, the whole thing can be handled in as little as 10 or 20 minutes, Peyton said. On the opposite extreme, far-off and difficult alarm calls have taken him up to an hour, he said.

For example, there was an "ongoing saga" over the past two summers with a house off Harpers Ferry Road at the southern tip of the county that had locked gates leading up to the house, Peyton said.

Deputies had to walk a quarter-mile to the house, only to find no one home and nothing apparently wrong.

They never found out what was causing the alarms and no burglary report was ever filed, Peyton said.

"That type of alarm is probably the best example of why a fine system for false alarms would benefit us because it would give that person the incentive to get the alarm fixed, get it checked out," he said.

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