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Harsher Fines for False Alarms?

Matthew Hersh

In an effort to reduce the number of false burglar and fire alarms, Princeton Township Committee Monday night introduced an ordinance that would, if passed, impose punitive measures on repeat offenders.

Under the proposed ordinance, introduced unanimously Monday night after a discussion session, a residence would be allowed one false fire alarm and one false burglar alarm per year, whereupon fines would increase with each succeeding violation.

Residents with up to 10 false burglar and fire alarms within a one-year period would be required to disconnect their systems for the remainder of the year, or 90 days, depending on the date of notification.

That scenario, however, is unlikely, as the Township Police Department reported that it logs, at most, five to six false alarms per residence annually.

The measure, which will undergo a public hearing October 24 at Township Hall, is in direct response to the inordinate number of false alarms that occurred in the Township in the last year, with 179 false fire alarms and 709 burglar alarms — only two of which were legitimate responses to burglary attempts.

"That ratio is not good," said Lt. Robert Buchanan of the Township Police.
And while the chances of reaching 10 false alarms was slim, Lt. Buchanan said, some members of Committee were not entirely comfortable with a result as punitive as the disconnection of a residence's fire alarm system.

"My concern is that 10 times the boy cries wolf, but 11 times, it's real," said Deputy Mayor Bernie Miller. "I think the fines are stringent enough to get the attention of the owner of the system," he said, adding that the owner could be placed at "undue risk" in the event of a disconnection.

The proposed ordinance would place a $200 fine on the second false alarm, escalating in $100 increments up to $500. The current code in place allows for three false alarms per year, followed by the maximum fine of $100 for ensuing incidents.

Mayor Phyllis Marchand said the proposed ordinance was not too stringent, adding that after 10 false alarms, a system should undergo review by the resident.

"Any private owner of a home that has 10 alarm violations and doesn't do anything about it, they obviously don't care about their alarm system and probably don't want to spend the money to disengage it.

"If they don't care enough about the alarm to have it working properly, then we should not have our police officers or the fire department going out."

Committeeman Bill Hearon worried that the Township would be held liable if it mandated a disconnection of fire alarms, but Township attorney Edwin Schmierer said that the disconnect after 10 false alarms is already in the current ordinance that has been in effect for over 10 years. The Township has yet to be put in the position of disconnecting a fire system, Mr. Schmierer said, adding that the Township would not be held liable.

"I don't think we would have liability because they would have been put on notice 10 times that they had to bring their system into compliance."

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