Town might increase fines for false alarms

The Riverhead Town Board is considering increasing fines for multiple false alarm violations and for people who fail to pay fines or intentionally set off false alarms. The measure is being looked at in part as a revenue generator and the board has budgeted an additional $40,000 in revenues in its proposed 2011 budget as a result of the new fines.

Currently, the town doesn’t impose a fine for a first or second false alarm, including alarms from private security systems that result in police being called, as well as fire alarms, but a $100 fine is charged for a third false alarm and each subsequent false alarm in a calendar year. Those failing to pay fines are charged $250 per day.

The proposed fine schedule would still charge no fine for first or second false alarms and $100 for the third or fourth, but the fifth and all subsequent false alarms in a calendar year would be $500 each.

Under the new proposal, the penalty for people who don’t pay their fines or people found guilty of intentional false alarms would be $250, plus $750 per day for each day the fines go unpaid.

The fines will not apply to alarms from single-family residences, but will apply to false alarms at all commercial and industrial buildings as well as condominiums, apartments or co-ops.

“I think a false alarm is a false alarm,” said Lieutenant Bob Peeker of the Riverhead Police Department. “We’re not doing this to make money, we’re doing this as a punitive measure to people that don’t maintain their alarm systems.”

Lt. Peeker estimates that about 70 percent of the false alarms occur in commercial establishments. He noted all false alarms use up police and firefighters resources.

“We don’t want to fine Grandma because she set off an alarm while house-sitting a cat,” Supervisor Sean Walter said.
Councilman Jim Wooten said he feels single-family residences should also be subjected to the fines.
“It should be the same for anyone with an alarm,” he said.

Deputy town attorney Dan McCormick said the current law covers property owners and lessees, so technically, residences are included, although the town has not enforced the law against residential property owners. The Town Board is expected to hold a public hearing on the proposed change in the near future, although no hearing date had been immediately scheduled.

In neighboring Southampton Town, there is no fine for the first false fire alarm, but there are penalties of $400 for the second, $500 for the third, $750 for the fourth and $1,000 for the fifth or more in a calendar year. For people who don’t pay, the sentence is $1,000 per day or up to 15 days in jail in Southampton.

Southampton imposes much lower penalties for false police alarms.
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