Howard County police announced that on Dec. 1 they will begin enforcing a 15-month-old state law that allows them to issue citations to property owners with more than three false alarms in 30 days or more than seven in a year.

County police repond to more than 15,000 burglary and robbery alarms each year, and about 98 percent of them are false, police said.

Police Chief Frederick Chaney said his department "intends to work closely with alarm companies and users of alarms to help identify problems and together resolve these problems," which he said are time-consuming for officers.

The policy affects both commercial and reisdential alarms.

After a 45-day grace period that will begin Monday, police will issue $30 citations for repeat false alarms. They also may file misdemeanor charges, punishable by $500 fines or 90-day jail terms, "against alarm users who deliberately activate alarms to assess police response times or for any other non-emergency situation," police said.

A false alarm is defined as "any request for immediate assistance by a law enforcement agency, regardless of cause, that is not in response to an actual emergency situation or threatened suggested criminal activity."

False alarms include "negligently or accidentally activated signals; signals that are the result of faulty, malfunctioning or improperly installed or maintained equipment; and signals that are purposely activated to summon the law enforcement agencies in non-emergency situations."

The law says it is a crime to continue to use a defective alarm system after written notification by police.

Howard County is taking a broader approach than the state, police said, in its criteria for issuing a criminal citation. "It is the department's intention to give alarm users every opportunity to correct system deficiencies before criminal prosecution is initiated," county police said.

The county thus joins other jursidictions in the Baltimore-Washington area in cracking down on excessive false alarms, a problem that plagues police nationwide, authorities said.

In Montgomery County, police plan a 60-day grace period starting Nov. 1 to notify the worst violators about the new policy. Police will start writing citations Jan. 1 for homeowners; commercial alarms users already are subject to fines for excessive false alarms.