In an effort to reduce the roughly 1,200 false alarms answered by the Charleston Police Department each month, the city will fine alarm owners responsible for four or more false calls, starting Sept. 1.

The Charleston City Council on Tuesday night approved the measure, which was proposed by the police department.

According to the department, each false alarm keeps two police officers busy for about 20 minutes, and more than 99 percent of alarm calls in the past 11 months have been false alarms.

Police Chief Greg Mullen said that he hopes fines will prompt people to be more careful about accidental alarms. Summerville, among other towns and cities, found that fines quickly reduced the number of false alarms, particularly from companies that trained employees to avoid alarm system mistakes.

Mullen said the city will work to educate alarm owners and alarm companies and said much of the problem could be solved if more alarm companies would notify police after learning an alarm was tripped accidentally and cancel the police response.

The fine will be $50 for the fourth through sixth false alarm in a year, and $100 for each one after that. Each year, starting Jan. 1, alarm owners will get three false alarms before the fines kick in.

This year, alarm owners will get three "free" false alarms during the last four months of the year after the ordinance takes effect, then start with a clean slate in 2009.

"We don't want anyone to stop using alarms," Mullen told City Council. "We think alarms are good." Comparing alarms to automobiles or guns, the police chief said alarm owners need to use them responsibly.