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False alarm calls still plaguing Greensboro police

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The Greensboro Police Department says false alarm calls are tying up its resources and even with tougher penalties that took effect in July, the issue isn't getting much better.

GPD responded to 300,000 service calls in 2014 and says alarms, whether at a home, apartment complex or business are the department’s number one call.

The problem is; less than 1 percent are actual emergencies.

Of the 13,422 alarm calls officers responded to in 2014, only 54 were valid. The rest were false.

“This is draining our resources,” said Greensboro Police Department’s alarm coordinator Sheila Santor.

Santor says when officers are tied up at false alarm calls, it can mean slower response times for people who actually need help.

"'Oh, I accidentally put in the wrong passcode, I'm sorry,' when there could be someone down the street who's having an actual emergency that we could also be responding to,” said Santor.

It’s because of this troubling trend, the City of Greensboro approved stricter false alarm penalties that took effect July 1, 2014.

"We wanted to get some of the alarm subscriber's attention and hold them more accountable for their false alarms," said Santor.

Taxpayers were no longer given two free false alarms; just one within a 12-month period.

Second alarm citations now stand at $50 and climb to $500 each for 10 or more false alarms violations.

Numbers requested by FOX8 from the City of Greensboro show from July through Dec. 31, 2014, Greensboro issued more than $500,000 in citations, collecting more false alarm fees during that time than all of 2013 combined.

Still, Greensboro police say the number of false alarms hasn’t dropped as much as officers would like.

"There has been a slight reduction in false alarm calls, but still, as far as the number of calls that are valid, it's still less than 1 percent," said Santor.

GPD says most people seem to forget passcodes or don’t properly close doors. Reminding visitors of how to work your alarm system could also help avoid fees.

Even for people who have alarm systems not directly monitored by an alarm company, if a neighbor phones it in or an officer stops by to check it out, and there's no crime, you may have to pay.

"If you absolutely know you are having a false alarm you can always cancel police dispatch, through your alarm company," said Santor. "And as long as you cancel police dispatch before we arrive then those charges will not count against you."

A spokesperson for the City of Greensboro says the additional money collected through false alarm fees in 2014 were not set aside for any specific departments or programs.

Violators are allowed to appeal citations.

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