7 On Your Side
Oakland man hit with hefty fine for false alarm
OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- There are 30,000 homes and businesses in Oakland protected by burglar alarms, but you'll pay a hefty fine if yours goes off by mistake. And in Oakland, the fine kicks in on the very first false alarm -- one man found that out the hard way.
He turned to 7 On Your Side for help because he is upset he went nearly 20 years without a false alarm, then got hit with the fine the first time it misfired. He complains he already pays taxes, he buys his own security, and now gets slapped with a penalty.
Security is tight as a bank vault at the Oakland Hills home of Berndt Schleifer.
"So the burglars know when they come, they have to expect a burglar alarm system," said Schleifer.
All three levels are wired with sensors, a security camera keeps watch outside, and another looks for intruders inside. It's a necessity he says in a city full of crime, but in the 19 years he's had the alarm system, it never has gone off -- until now.
"My wife and I were not home," said Schleifer.
It was a quiet Wednesday afternoon. The alarm suddenly rang. His security company, Bay Alarm, called the house. When no one picked up, the dispatcher called neighbors to take a look around, then called police.
"The policemen checked everything out, looked around, and couldn't see anything," said Schleifer.
It turns out there was no burglar. No broken locks. No harm done& or was there?
"I got invoiced $84 for the police services," said Schleifer.
Schleifer was shocked to receive a bill from the city of Oakland -- an $84 penalty because police responded to a false alarm at his house. He was outraged.
"19 years, one time? There's something wrong," said Schleifer.
Schleifer thinks Bay Alarm called police prematurely, but his bigger gripe was he says police can't stop crime so he's forced to protect himself, then he gets a penalty.
"The inability for the Oakland police to protect its citizens costs the citizens a ton of money. They have to install this alarm system, they have to maintain it and when one event happens, we have to pay a fine," said Schleifer.
"We would love to be able to tell you that we can protect you 24/7, that is our job," said Oakland Police spokesperson Officer Johnna Watson.
Watson tells us police are stretched thin trying to control crime and protests and yes, citizens need to protect themselves.
"We can't be at everyone's home all of the time to protect, so therefore we do have to if we choose to install alarms on our homes," said Watson.
She says the city imposed that $84 penalty in 2010 because false alarms were rampant, wasting precious police time. The city received more than 29,000 alarm calls back in 2009 and 98 percent of them were false. Since the fine was imposed, alarm calls dropped way down to 18,000 calls last year.
"The money is the motivating factor to have people really look at their systems," said Watson.
Which brings us back to Schleifer. Bay Alarm found it was one of the glass-break sensors that went off by mistake. The company replaced it at no charge and even paid his $84 fine.
The company said: "Bay Alarm handled the alarm signal in the exact manner prescribed by the city of Oakland and the Schleifers' written direction. The Schleifers have been loyal customers for 19 years. In recognition of this, the company paid the fine and has replaced the faulty detector on the Schleifers' owned system free of charge."
"I'm thankful that this was resolved," said Schleifer.
Many cities impose penalties for false alarms, but most don't charge for the first offense. Also, after a third false alarm in one year, Oakland police will not respond to that address until the owner completes a course on false alarms. To avoid problems, Bay Alarm says test your alarm system once a month.
oakland, crime, OPD, 7 on your side, michael finney
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