Print This Post Print This Post Email This Post Email This Post

Don’t be alarmed by alarms

In the middle of a December night, a security alarm wailed in an Antiquity home. The resident called 9-1-1 and Cornelius Police arrived almost immediately. A search of the home and the area found a door ajar, but no sign of an attempted entry. Nothing was missing and no one was in the area.

But the next day, the HOA management company sent an e-mail to all residents saying, “…there was an attempt to break in to a resident’s home yesterday…be sure to call 9-1-1 to report any suspicious activities.”

The day after that, a security alarm company had teams canvassing the neighborhood telling residents that there had been a break in and that they should consider signing up for monitoring services. When questioned, the alarm company representative said they had learned of the “break in” from a resident who read it in a newsletter.

And yet, according to police, all signs pointed to the incident being a false alarm. 

The result of all this activity is a neighborhood that is now more nervous about crime, but the only “crime” committed in this case was the security company who went door to door in violation of a Cornelius regulation that requires permits for canvassing. The company had no permit. In Davidson, door to door canvasing is not allowed.


Security systems are big business. Thirty six million are installed across the country—half of those in homes. The industry takes in over $28 billion annually.

The Center for Problem-Oriented Policing puts the false alarm rate at between 94 and 98 percent. Davidson Police Chief Jeanne Miller says the false alarm rate for Davidson calls is in excess of 97 percent. The alarm industry sets the false rate at about 80 percent.


Cornelius had 2,055 business and residential alarms calls through Dec. 15 this year, according to police. Of those, 481 were cancelled by the alarm company and the department responded to the rest, only a small percentage of which were for-cause. The Cornelius Police Department does not charge for residential false alarms.

In Davidson, Chief Miller says residents must register their alarms with the town and they are provided with a numerical code that the 9-1-1 center uses to determine if police will respond. If false alarms go above a trigger number during a 12 month period, fines are assessed. Nationwide, Davidson’s is a common approach among law enforcement.

According to Cornelius Police Sgt. George Brinzey, forceable entry into alarmed homes is very rare. The bigger problem, he says, is people leaving a garage door open or an unlocked vehicle on the street. Sgt. Brinzey says that when break-ins occur in non-alarmed homes, the perpetrator has probably been in the home before. Both nationally and locally, residential burglaries tend to concentrate in and around low income areas.

False alarms are caused by a number of factors:

  • User error, such as failure to understand the system controls, a family member without codes, leaving doors or windows ajar;
  • Roaming pets can trip a motion detector;
  • Wind and bad weather can make a sensor operate;
  • and Installation errors and line problems are also common.


Though the evidence shows alarm systems aren’t perfect, it isn’t enough of a reason to do away with them, as the systems provide some benefits. for example, the more alarm systems there are on a street, the more likely a potential burglar will go elsewhere. Now entire new neighborhoods are being wired for security and the word gets out quickly to avoid those areas. Property insurance companies give alarm discounts to homeowners as high as 20 percent, often balancing the typical $35 per month alarm service fee. And, security systems monitor fire and smoke detectors, water level indicators and temperature sensors—all critical functions.


Sgt. Brinzey stresses basic crime prevention measures, including:

  • Park in a locked garage;
  • Turn on lights inside and out;
  • Keep doors and windows locked;
  • Remove valuables from outside vehicles;
  • and always call 9-1-1 with suspicions.

Neighborhoods in both Cornelius and Davidson are mostly safe. To keep them safe, pay attention to security rules. If an alarm does sound, do not panic; Do call 9-1-1. Have police check out the situation, then breath easy. There’s a 97 percent chance it is not due to criminal activity. Suggesting otherwise when it’s found there is nothing wrong harms your neighborhood reputation for safety and diverts police from locations where the need is greater.

This post was written by:

- who has written 17 posts on Real Estate.

Christina Ritchie Rogers is the assistant director of digital content at Davidson College. She also is the former editor of

Contact the author

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.