A top city official says alarms are causing real problems for Atlanta Police Officers and the city, overwhelming the courts and draining police resources.

Deputy Chief Operating Officer Hans Utz told the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods on May 9 that the city is asking for input on an ordinance meant to reduce false alarm calls. The ordinance would require homeowners to register alarms, a provision that could prove controversial for people who don’t want their security information entered into a database.

Utz said his appearance at the civic group wasn’t by coincidence, saying Buckhead generates many of the false alarms.

APD responded to 65,000 false alarm calls last year and 80 percent of those came from places with multiple alarms, Utz said. He said a police officer spends 20 minutes responding to each false alarm call. The high number of tickets and length of response means 12 full-time officers each year are tied up responding to these calls.

The amount of false alarm citations police officers wrote to property owners overwhelmed the court system, Utz said.

“We are obviously very keen to do something about this, but we’re very, very keen to do something about it in such a way that it doesn’t penalize people that are good actors on this,” Utz said.

Under the current city code, the fine for a first offense is $100 and the amount quickly escalates with subsequent offenses. Utz said the new ordinance would waive the first citation and the second if the offender takes a course about how to reduce false alarms. Subsequent violations would start hitting owners in the pocketbook.

Utz said state law prohibits cities from regulating alarm companies, meaning the city can’t force the companies to disclose which homes have alarms installed. He said the city will ask property owners to voluntarily register their alarms at no cost.

Utz said the city is hiring a Maryland-based contractor called Cry Wolf to implement its new false alarm ordinance, provided Atlanta City Council passes the new regulations. Utz said the contractor would not be responsible for enforcing the ordinance and that Atlanta police officers would respond to all calls and write any citations.

BCN member Gordon Certain asked Utz how the city will ensure that Cry Wolf intends to protect its list of homeowners who have registered their alarms.

Utz said the company will have a financial incentive. Any breach of data will result in an immediate termination of the contract, he said.

He said the city anticipates a sharp decrease in false alarm calls.

“The first year we roll this out, we anticipate somewhere on the order of a 50 percent reduction,” he said. “ … Six more officers back out on the streets, basically.”

Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt wrote for Reporter Newspapers from 2011 - 2014. He is the founder and editor of Decaturish.com