A bill introduced in the Georgia General Assembly could invalidate the city of Sandy Springs’ controversial alarm ordinance, Mayor Rusty Paul said.
“The chief of police (Ken DeSimone) testified at a legislative hearing,” he said, referring to House Bill 465. “Our alarm ordinance is under attack by the alarm industry. There’s a bill that basically would bar us from fining alarm companies. ADT hired a lobbyist for this. GMA (the Georgia Municipal Association) has allowed our chief to speak.”
Paul spoke on the topic at the Sandy Springs City Council’s March 2 meeting, which was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the state Legislature’s website, HB 465, if approved, would “prohibit local governments from imposing civil penalties upon an alarm systems contractor for a false alarm that occurs through no fault of the alarm systems contractor.”
Over the years the city has revised its alarm ordinance multiple times to cut down on the false alarm calls its police department had to follow up on.
The city revised its ordinance in September 2017, because the model ordinance recommended by the alarm association and implemented by the city in 2013 proved to have no substantial impact in reducing the number of false alarms. In 2017, there were 9,802 calls to the 911 center by alarm companies with 99% of those false alarms. The ordinance was also changed to mandate alarm companies, not customers, would be fined for false alarms.
The city also amended the ordinance again in June 2018, requiring alarm companies to provide true, confirmed verification through audio, video or in-person confirmation on intrusion (burglar) alarm activations before calling 911. That change took effect a year later to give alarm companies time to adjust.
In March 2018, the Georgia Electronic Life Safety & System Association Inc., a trade organization, plus Safecom Security Solutions Inc. and Acom Security Co. LLP, sued the city.
Since true verification took effect in June 2019, the 911 call center has received only 1,645 intrusion, panic or duress calls from alarm companies during a one-year period, with more than 99% of them remaining false alarms.
In the lawsuit, the alarm companies and the association claimed the ordinance violated their constitutional rights by fining the alarm companies for the false alarms they reported to 911 on behalf of their customers. The city maintained it is trying to resolve a public safety crisis created by the alarm industry.
After the U.S. District Court dismissed the lawsuit in December 2018, it was then appealed. In July, a panel of three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals’ Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta ruled in the city’s favor. So this year the alarm industry is lobbying the Legislature to help invalidate Sandy Springs’ ordinance.
“The bill is moving. It’s in the House Rules Committee waiting to send it to the floor. Monday is Crossover Day, and we’ll see if it makes the crossover,” Paul said, referring to the day a bill must be passed by one chamber or the other to gain approval in this year’s session. “Alarm companies are not happy, even though the chief has pointed out our ordinance has reduced false alarm calls.
“(The bill) would not allow municipalities to fine alarm companies. ADT is one of the worst offenders. They almost never verify (if an alarm is false or not). They just call them in. They don’t make any effort to verify.”
In a news release issued in July after the plaintiffs’ appeal effort failed, Stan Martin, the coalition’s executive director, said, “Even after it started fining alarm companies, Sandy Springs continued to impose additional punitive measures on the 80% of the community that depends on alarm systems to protect life and property. The Sandy Springs ordinance is also among the most punitive in the nation with excessive fines, even when a dispatch is cancelled and the requirement of some type of verification before police will be dispatched.”