Careless users of burglar alarms could get a slap in the wallet if the Bakersfield Police Department gets its way.
Most alarms police respond to here -- 97 percent -- are false, department data shows.
Police staffers are currently working on a proposal to increase fines for repeat offenders. They say an effective program combining fees and education could dramatically lower false alarm rates.
"If you charge people more money, they start paying attention," said Bakersfield Police Capt. Joe Bianco.
It's a big problem. On any given day, 9 percent of dispatched calls concern alarms, according to a department report.
Last year, it cost the department about $1 million for on-site response to more than 10,000 false alarms. Nearly 7,000 additional false alarms that were canceled after the initial call to police cost the department another $800,000.
Currently, Bakersfield homeowners and businesses pay no fines for the first five false alarms in a year.
Proposed new rules call for a written warning after the first false alarm, a $105 fee for the second -- which could be avoided by completion of online alarm school -- with fees increasing for each additional incident to $420 for the fifth.
The total tally for five would be $945 compared to zero now.
Bianco presented an update on the proposal Monday to the Bakersfield City Council's three-member legislative committee. The department has been looking into the issue for more than a year and gave its initial report to the committee in March.
"I would like to get this resolved," said committee chairwoman Sue Benham. Jacquie Sullivan and David Couch are also members.
Bianco said a solid version with updates to the municipal code could be finished before Christmas.
Any final decision would be up to a vote of the full city council.
Part of the police department's effort has included outreach to local alarm companies.
"Bakersfield is doing a great job of looking at this from every angle," said Molly Busacca, who owns Secure Systems with her husband, Bruce, who founded the company in 1980.
Busacca said she was worried when the issue first came up, but is "extremely impressed" with how the department has researched the topic and listened to industry concerns.
Morgan Clayton, president of Tel-Tec Security Systems Inc., said he hates to see fees go up, but in this case there is a justifiable reason.
Bakersfield isn't alone in coming up with new ways to address the growing problem.
Ron Walters, a director for the Security Industry Alarm Coalition, a nonprofit trade group based in Texas, said the industry is actively promoting local ordinance amendments nationwide, especially as municipalities become more strapped for cash.
The proposals Bakersfield is eyeing could reduce false alarms here by as much as 90 percent after a few years, Walters said.
More than 90 percent of alarm owners have one or no dispatches in any given year, so much of the problem stems from a few locations, he said. Schools, government buildings, churches, banks and large retailers are the most common violators, according to information SIAC tracks from cooperating police agencies around the country.
"When a well-enforced ordinance is in place, residential alarm systems will average under one dispatch every four years and commercial sites only 1.25 dispatches every year," Walters wrote in an e-mail. "Ultimately, very few alarm users will be fined."