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In age of staffing shortages, police department seeks to avoid false alarm calls

Of the 5,560 calls for service from a security system, only 7 were a real threat.

GASTONIA, N.C. — False alarms from home security systems are becoming a worsening problem for police as many departments face understaffing. Officials argue responding to an accidentally triggered alarm wastes their resources. 

While some municipalities will issue financial fines for false alarms, there is nothing in place yet to deter false alarm calls in Gastonia. While Gastonia Police Department Chief Trent Conard told WCNC Charlotte he does not believe in the fining system, he does want alarm companies to verify threats before asking police to respond.  

Across the United States, about 96% of alarm system activations occur when there isn’t an actual crime happening, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. 

In Gastonia, new numbers from 2021 show 99% of alarm activations are false alarms.

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"A lot of times, two officers will show up and they’re going to secure the scene, make sure nothing’s wrong, but it takes a lot of time,” Conard said.

The chief added that time is especially precious for officers when they’re already spread thin. His department currently has 18 vacant positions. 

False alarms cost the city of Gastonia $865,395 in taxpayer money, according to a 2021 report from the police department. Of the 5,560 calls for service from a security system, only 7 were a real threat, according to the department.

Conard wants the city to pass an ordinance requiring security companies to verify there is a threat before calling the police. He suggests this could be accomplished through the use of surveillance cameras or private guards.

Conard said alarm companies are typically against verifying responses because it would cost the companies money to implement and update their systems. 

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“Normally, when verified responses is even mentioned the alarm industry is highly involved and fighting against that. So, that could be an obstacle that we have to overcome,” he added. 

WCNC Charlotte reached out to more than 10 security alarm companies but was denied interviews or did not hear back in time for this story.  

In neighboring Mecklenburg County, the city of Charlotte fines people if they trigger three or more false alarms. The strategy aims to gain revenue for the city to offset the costs of police responding. Conard doesn’t agree with that method. 

“You’re adding an additional burden on the police department and city of Gastonia because we’re going to have to have people to monitor those fines, to bill those people, to collect them and in the meantime, we’re still responding to all those alarms,” Conard argued.  

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At the next Gastonia city council meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 21, the chief plans to present his idea for the new city ordinance that would require a verified response.

Contact Julia Kauffman at jkauffman@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram 

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