Jan 052011

A number of Lincoln County residents Wednesday asked county commissioners to re-think their plan to not have the sheriff’s office respond to burglar alarms unless they are verified or a patrol officer happens to be in the area and they have the time. Commissioners said Lincoln County is no different from any other in that 98-99.7% of all burglar alarm calls are false alarms. Over the past year, there have been nearly 400 alarms in Lincoln County, none of which involved criminal activity. Sheriff Dotson has said that many alarms in Lincoln County are from homes or businesses in far flung reaches of the county and thereby take up huge blocks of time by deputies who would otherwise be patrolling the county to respond to real emergencies. Commissioner Terry Thompson said out of 19,000 homes in Lincoln County, only 500 have burglar alarms that they know of. He said “responding to those alarms unfairly subsidizes those homes and businesses at the expense of adequate police and patrol services to the other 18,500.”

But residents were adamant that there ought to be a better way to do it. They suggested that alarm holders employ a private security service to check out an alarm activation before the sheriff’s office is called. Or that commissioners ought to slap steep fines on those who have frequent false alarms. But commissioners said they already have a fine schedule and that even when they do mail repeat violators a fine, few pay it. Commissioners also said the county has an ordinance that requires that home and business owners acquire a permit before they install a burglar alarm. But few do.

Deputy District Counsel Kristen Yuill told the board that the root of the problem is that there is a public expectation that if they install a burglar alarm, and it goes off, officers are duty-bound to come running. Yuill said there are no laws that require the sheriff’s office or any police department to respond to home or business alarms. She said buying a burglar alarm is a private purchase and a private concern. It does not constitute a legally binding contract on any law enforcement agency compelling it to respond. She said the only alarm they will regularly respond to is either a panic alarm or a robbery alarm. Those are activated manually, when someone is actually in a home or business at the time, like if a burglar breaks in and the resident makes a frantic call to 9-1-1. She said officers do respond in those cases. She reiterated that the burglar alarm ordinance revision is only to address a requirement that activated alarms are verified before a patrol deputy is sent. She added that the fine schedule is aimed at those who might abuse the verification system, like if someone in Portland owns a second home in a remote part of the county and they’ve been notified by their alarm company that their alarm is going off. If they call Lincoln County 9-1-1 and claim their house alarm has been verified, and the cops find nothing out of place at the house, the caller can be charged with filing a false police report and that’s a criminal offense with a fine attached.

Commissioners said they expect to formalize the new burglar alarm ordinance by early February, with perhaps one more opportunity for public input on the matter at their first meeting in February. The alarm ordinance simply clarifies when someone installs a burglar alarm it must be accompanied by a permit from the county and that all alarm activations are verified before a patrol unit is sent out to investigate. Verified alarm response protocol is becoming more common around the country as police and sheriff’s departments have grown weary of responding to one false alarm after another, thereby leaving the streets under covered for general law enforcement..

The alarm ordinance changes pertain only to homes and businesses lying outside city limits in Lincoln County. Each city has their own alarm response rules and guidelines.

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