A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a Sandy Springs ordinance that authorizes the city to charge alarm companies fees for false burglar alarms.
The lawsuit filed by the Georgia Electronic Life Safety & Systems Association and A-Com Security Co. LLP and Safecom Security Solutions Inc. alarm companies charged that the city’s false alarm ordinance was unconstitutional.
In a Wednesday order, Judge Amy Totenberg said the city’s plan to fine companies for false alarms was not arbitrary and unreasonable, as an industry group had argued, and dismissed the suit filed in the U.S. District Court in Atlanta. The court opinion found substantive due process and legitimate governmental reasons for the ordinance and a rational basis for the city to believe the law furthers a legitimate purpose.
“I’m gratified that the federal court agrees that the enormous volume of false alarm calls generated by alarm companies is a serious public safety concern and that the city’s response to that drain on taxpayer resources is appropriate,” Paul said.
Said Lee, “Given the certainty of the judge’s 31-page order, the city is discussing whether to seek sanctions due to the unprofessional and derogatory language of the original complaint and attorney’s fees.”
The city describes the situation as “a public safety crisis created by the alarm industry.”
No one returned a message left for the Georgia Electronic Life Safety & Systems Association, one of the parties in the suit. Stan Martin, executive director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition, said his group is considering whether to appeal.
“Obviously, we don’t agree with the federal judge’s ruling,” he said. “We believe it should’ve gone to trial.”
The alarm companies and the association filed suit March 12, claiming 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 maintains it is trying to resolve a public safety crisis created by the alarm industry.
Almost 18 percent of all calls coming into the 911 center come from alarm companies, of which, 99 percent are false alarms. 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 percent of those false alarms.
In June, the city council approved additional changes to the ordinance requiring alarm companies to provide true, confirmed verification through audio, video or in-person confirmation on intrusion (burglar) alarm activations before calling 911. The new requirements take effect June 19, providing alarm companies with a full 12 months to implement.
Sandy Springs Police Capt. Dan Nable, who oversees the agency’s initiative addressing false alarms, provided an update to City Council members at their Dec. 4 meeting. He said while the burden has been taken off dispatchers since the city began diverting calls to the call center, the rate of false alarms continues to hover around 99%, Patch.com reported.
Nable cited figures that showed Sandy Springs received 534 alarm calls in September, all of which were determined to be false. In October, out of 524 calls, 522 were false and 519 out of 521 calls received in November were also false, Patch.com reported.
Each week the city receives several appeals of violations from alarm companies. Eighteen were submitted in September, and the city granted 11 appeals. In October, 10 were submitted and nine were approved, and 12 were up for consideration in November, with the city approving nine.
Fine collection also remained steady in October and November. In October, Sandy Springs collected $1,850 in first false alarm violations; $5,300 for the second and $9,350 for the third. In November, $2,825 was collected for the first, $4,800 for the second and $7,750 for the third.
Capt. Nable said the more than 200 companies active in Sandy Springs are in compliance with the city’s false alarm rules, according to Patch.com. Twenty-two companies are not in compliance due to unpaid fines, and five of those companies have registered sites around the city.
The captain said the majority of these companies only owe the city a few hundred dollars, which gives him the impression that they have decided not to do business in the city of Sandy Springs. He also said Sandy Springs has done spot checks with customers to see if they’ve been notified by companies that they were out of compliance, a requirement of the city’s ordinance. Nable notes none of the customers were informed of their company’s status.
“They were unaware that their alarm companies were out of compliance unless they checked the website,” he added.
True verification requirements will go into effect on June 19, 2019, throughout Sandy Springs, meaning the alarm companies will have to verify intrusion calls through audio, video or in-person visits before calling 911.
A meeting was held Nov. 13 with 15 alarm companies with the goal of informing and educating these businesses on what’s coming down the pipeline and to field questions from representatives of the industry, Patch.com reported.
Mayor Rusty Paul, who said he expects the alarm company industry to drum up another campaign to fight the city’s changes, asked if Sandy Springs has a decline in calls. Nable reiterated that the total number of false alarm calls remain about the same, Patch.com reported. The call center, however, is helping with the workload by checking companies for compliance issues before those calls are forwarded to ChatComm, the captain said.
Developed from the following Stories:
- False Alarm Calls Continue to Strap Police in Sandy Springs, Ga. – 12.11.18 – Security Sales & Integration
- Judge dismisses case against Sandy Springs for burglar alarm … – 12.13.18 – Atlanta Journal Constitution
- Judge dismisses alarm companies’ federal lawsuit against Sandy … – 12.14.18 – MDJOnline.com