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11.4.19 – Northside Neighbor – By Everett Catts

In the 4½ months since the city of Sandy Springs’ amended false alarm ordinance took effect, the burden false alarm calls have placed on its Chattahoochee River 911 Authority has dropped drastically.

“There’s several areas,” Sandy Springs Police Capt. Dan Nable said of the impact the ordinance has had on his department. “First off is the 911 (call) center. … When we first looked at the 911 center number of calls, 18% of the calls coming in from the 911 center are from what we call citizen-initiated calls were from alarm companies. Now it’s about 4%. So it’s a substantial reduction in the workload that the 911 center has to do. So now (officers) can focus on the true emergencies like medical emergencies or a robbery or a car crash, things that are legitimate uses of the 911 center. It increases the officers’ awareness and officer safety.”

Nable presented an update on the new ordinance, which took effect June 19, at the Sandy Springs City Council’s work session Nov. 5 at City Springs.

Over the years the law has been amended several times, but the biggest change came in June 2018. At that time the 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 city gave the companies, which are against the amended ordinance and even took the city to court over it, a year to prepare for it.

According to documents posted to the city’s website regarding Nable’s presentation, the city had an average of 815 burglar alarm calls in 2017. In June 2018, the city moved its burglar alarm calls to its non-emergency call center, reducing overall volume to ChatComm and averaging 500 calls a month, 99% of which were false alarms.

Since the new ordinance took effect, the city is averaging 160 burglar alarm calls into ChatComm each month (a 32% decrease from a year ago), even though 99% are still false alarms. Some suspects have been corralled thanks to true verification.

In June a video-verified alarm at a construction site showed individuals breaking in, and three suspects were arrested. The following month, a woman pressed the panic button on her alarm after her drunk, belligerent and estranged husband was causing problems, and he was arrested.

In September a video-verified alarm was set off at a car dealership, where two suspects were arrested. Since that month, five alarms were checked by private guard response, and one case was an actual burglary. According to the city documents, there is no evidence that there would have been a different response if the police had responded instead of a security guard.

In Nable’s report, he said the city’s recommended modifications to the ordinance are: clarification that failure to provide proof of verification for an intrusion alarm constitutes a false verification, plus deleting obsolete language from the definition of “verify.”

The proposed resolution would establish fines for false verification at $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second and $1,000 for the third and beyond offenses. Both of those proposals were approved by the council 6-0 at its meeting immediately after the work session.

The fines were set up to encourage alarm companies to provide to the police video verification of a true alarm call, such as a suspect breaking into a home, within 24 hours of when the crime took place.

Before the vote on the resolution for the new fines, District 5 Councilman Tibby DeJulio asked if the city was actually collecting the other fines already in place for things like false alarms and failure to register an alarm company and/or provide a list of operating alarms with the city.

In response, Staff Attorney Joe Leonard said, “Yes, we had some companies with large fines collected and then kicking and screaming (about them). But when the threat of no registration came up, they paid up.”

Nable said the amended ordinance has other benefits for officers.

“Now, when they go to an alarm call, they at least have a reason to believe that they’re going to encounter a human being,” he said. “There’s either somebody in need — somebody pressed the panic button — or it’s a perpetrator of some criminal act that’s been seen on video stealing something or breaking into an area or something like that.

“It helps morale. They don’t feel abused by answering these frivolous calls and it helps their ability to spend more time on those calls they do get. They might be able to spend a few more minutes with that robbery victim and get more information, identify some suspects, as opposed to having to think, ‘All right, we’ve got three or four false alarms coming in. I’ve got to hurry up and get done with this call.”

Police Chief Ken DeSimone said true verification has been huge.

“It’s reduced the burden on the 911 center first because you don’t have the large number of false calls coming in from the alarm companies,” he said. “That trickles down to the police and fire departments. You don’t have as many police officers or firefighters responding to false calls.

“We saw in tonight’s presentation that 99% of all calls from alarm companies are false, almost 100%. It’s not only constant in Sandy Springs but nationwide. It’s a nationwide problem. That’s why we’re getting calls from across the country to see how we do our alarm ordinance. We’re always a pioneer.”

Nable agreed, adding while Sandy Springs is not the first municipality to adopt this type of ordinance, it’s the first in the Southeast. He said the city has received calls about it from other municipalities in Georgia plus Washington state, Virginia and Texas