PARIS — The Oxford County Sheriff’s Office is working on a new policy on answering burglar alarms after hundreds of false alarms cost the county more than 1,000 man hours in 2011.
According to Chief Deputy Dane Tripp, the Sheriff’s Office answered 327 burglar alarms. Of those, only three, less than 1 percent were actual break-ins. The rest were alarm errors, homeowner errors or rodents and other animals setting off motion detectors.
That’s not counting the alarms that Maine State Police and local police departments answer.
In a county where the nearest deputy is sometimes more than an hour away from homes in the unorganized territories, it can mean a lot of driving and overtime hours. “This is really time consuming,” Tripp said.
Tripp said he once responded to an alarm in Magalloway Plantation that took him two hours to reach. When the nearest deputy is an off-duty officer, their contracts state they must get at least three hours overtime for responding when off the clock.
False alarms don’t just affect the sheriff’s office. They mean a deputy is racing to the scene of a possible false alarm, requiring them to drive faster than normal and taking them away from potential real crimes.
The county has already taken a tougher policy with the alarm companies, charging $150 to companies when a home or business has three false alarms.
He said that alarm companies don’t take action until the second false alarm. “It didn’t really work that well because they’d just get to that magic number,” he said.
There are other problems as well. Homeowners who don’t post numbers or who repaint houses without telling alarm companies can have deputies hunting for the right home.
Some alarm companies wait 30 minutes after the alarm is sounded to alert local caretakers to check homes if the homeowners aren’t around.
Tripp said home and business owners should keep their alarm systems serviced and keep up-to-date information on their homes with the alarm companies. They should have a caretaker who lives close to the building to check alarms for any signs of a break-in.
Answering a burglar alarm almost every day, on average, isn’t helping a department strained to the point where it’s not uncommon for deputies to work 18-hour shifts. “We’re all taking it in stride,” Tripp said, but it’s a lot of extra work.