Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul plans to convince Gov. Brian Kemp to veto House Bill 465, which the Georgia General Assembly approved during its recently wrapped-up session.
The bill, which prohibits alarm companies from being fined by municipalities for false alarms occurring at businesses or homes, invalidates Sandy Springs’ own alarm ordinance, which does just that as a way to cut down on false alarms, which strain the city’s police resources.
“The governor hasn’t signed it yet. He’s got until the early part of May to sign it,” Paul said. “We’ll have some discussions with him to convince him not to. Our policy is the appropriate (one). Whether we can persuade him to not sign it is not clear, but we’re not going to change our policy. …
“Even though we’ve reduced the number of false alarm calls coming into (the) 911 (center), even though the total number of the calls have decreased significantly, almost all the calls are false ones. It’s a total waste of the city’s resources. … We’ll see what happens there.”
Paul talked about the bill during his legislative update at the Sandy Springs City Council’s April 6 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.”
At the council’s March 2 meeting, Paul warned residents about the bill. Six days later, it was approved by the House 113-52. After an amended version was passed by the Senate 41-7 March 25, the House again approved it 100-65 March 31, the final day of the 2021 legislative session.
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 lobbied the Legislature to help invalidate Sandy Springs’ ordinance. In a news release announcing the passage of HB 465, alarm company organizational leaders praised it.
“This bill has wider implications than for just our industry,” said John Loud, vice president of the Dallas, Texas-based Electronic Security Association and president of Kennesaw-based Loud Security Systems. “The concept of fining a company for a problem caused by its customers is the equivalent of sending someone’s speeding ticket to Ford and sets a precedent that could be a threat to many industries.”
Stan Martin, executive director of the Frisco, Texas-based Security Industry Alarm Coalition, added, “These policies do little to change user behavior, deny the user the right to confront their accuser and access to due process, and fines an innocent party for the actions of another.”
The neighboring city of Brookhaven followed Sandy Springs’ lead in passing a similar alarm ordinance. According to the release, several other states have approved bills similar to Georgia’s HB 465 in recent years including California, Florida, New Jersey, Texas, Tennessee and Iowa.