By Katie Fallon
The Sandy Springs Police Department is in the final stages of drafting a false alarm ordinance for the city, complete with an escalating schedule of fines up to $500 per call for continued false alarms at an individual residence or business.
The move has come after several months of the department responding to around 900 alarm calls every month. Routinely, less than one half of one percent of those calls are true alarm calls and the problem has put a strain on the department’s resources.
Each false alarm call reportedly takes an average of 30 minutes to respond to and clear.
Lt. James Fraker said final details of the ordinance are still being worked out before the law is sent to the City Council for approval, but the outline is clear.
“There are going to be fines involved for false alarms…where we get there and there’s no reason that the alarm should have gone off except for mechanical failure or somebody didn’t set it properly,” Fraker said.
Within a permit year, residents and business owners will be allowed two false alarms without being charged. The third, fourth and fifth false alarms will cost $50 each. The sixth and seventh false alarms will cost $100 each. The eighth and ninth calls will cost $250 each and each false alarm that is the tenth incident or above will cost $500 each.
The Sandy Springs ordinance, Fraker said, is based upon a model ordinance drafted by the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police and adopted by the City of Marietta.
“It works very well for them,” Fraker said. “We’re making our modifications to it and it’s going to be a go.”
While some residents at the Oct. 10 CompStat meeting, where the planned ordinance was announced, said the beginning fines were not enough, Major James Moore said the move is not about making money for the police department, but rather teaching property owners to be more proactive in maintaining and properly responding to their alarm systems.
“The idea is not to use it as a revenue generator, but the idea is to make people pay attention to the fact that we’re pulling people off the street and we’re not being able to protect people because we’re responding to these false alarms,” Fraker said.
As currently drafted, each property owner’s false alarm counts will not be cumulative over years, but rather reset each permit year.
Once the ordinance is adopted by City Council, property owners with alarms will have to log on to the city’s web site and register their house or business alarm system. The process will also be available to be completed at City Hall and neither method involves a charge.
Police Chief Gene Wilson has said some of the decisions the department had to make were whether fees would be levied against the property owner or the alarm company. Concerns have also been raised about what the police department’s reaction will be to properties that have a high number of false alarms.
“What’s going to happen if people don’t pay these fines is we’re still going to respond, but unless someone calls and says they’re in their house and someone has broken in, we’re not going to respond as quickly if we’ve got (other) calls backed up,” Fraker said. “It’ll be when we get there. But we’re not going to jeopardize anyone’s life and say we’re just not going to handle a call.”
The lieutenant said officers have already become familiar with the homes that have frequent false alarms.
“There’s a fine line that you’ve got to draw because you don’t want to jeopardize someone’s safety, but you don’t want to jeopardize another’s citizen’s safety because an officer’s out handling something they don’t need to be handling while something worse is going on.”
To get the word out about the ordinance’s parameters if it is passed, the police department said it will send the information out in email blasts, visit homeowner’s association meetings and inform residents upon their first and second violations before fees are imposed.
So far, the ordinance has not been placed on a regular meeting agenda for the City Council.