Sandy Springs Alarm Ordinance Upheld by Appeals Court
The Eleventh Circuit Court wrote the ordinance is an economic regulation that “does not burden any suspect classification or fundamental right.”
SANDY SPRINGS, Ga. — The U.S. Court of Appeals’ Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta has upheld an ordinance in Sandy Springs, Ga., that allows the city to levy fines on alarm companies for false alarms at properties they service.
The ongoing legal battle dates back to March 2018 when Georgia Electronic Life Safety & System Association joined Safecom Security Solutions and Acom Security Co. in suing the city. The legal challenge, organized by the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC), claimed the true purpose of the ordinance is simply to generate revenue and that the law has no reasonable relationship to any legitimate governmental interest.
Sandy Springs has a population of approximately 107,000 and is located 16 miles north of Atlanta. The latest iteration of city’s controversial alarm verification ordinance went into effect in June 2019. Since then, alarm companies have been required to verify home and business intrusion alarms by using audio, video or in-person verification before notifying 911.
Police are not responding to any incidents without verification of a crime, and alarm companies are paying steep fines for false alarms triggered within the city limits.
In rendering their decision July 17, a three-judge panel wrote Sandy Spring’s ordinance is rationally related to the city’s strong interests in reducing the number of false alarms that burden its police and fire departments and waste public resources. The court decision states:
As we see it, it is entirely rational for the City to penalize alarm companies for the false alarms of their customers. For one thing, undoubtedly, alarm companies can influence the behavior of their customers. They may devote more time and resources to training their customers (the property owners) about the proper use of alarm systems and the need for avoiding false alarms.
Moreover, they may sever their relationships with chronic abusers — those customers who repeatedly set off false alarms. They may draft their contracts with care and particularly address the chronic abuser. And they can pass along any fees that have been imposed on them onto their customers, which would directly motivate property owners to avoid triggering false alarms. Any of these possibilities would satisfy the law’s requirement that the means adopted be reasonably related to the ends of reducing false alarms and saving the public’s money.
The court also upheld the city’s appeal process for false alarms, stating the alarm industry failed to prove harm because the companies never attempted an appeal. Nor has the industry explained how, absent an appeal, they were otherwise harmed by the ostensibly deficient procedures in place.
“We respectfully disagree with the court’s decision and we are looking at an option to petition the court for a rehearing,” SIAC Executive Director Stan Martin tells SSI. “A decision will be made by week’s end. Fortunately the vast majority of law enforcement leaders clearly understand that these fines should be sent to the end user, not the alarm companies.”
Sandy Springs adopted its first alarm ordinance in 2012, with the goal of reducing the large number of false alarm calls into the 911 center. The original ordinance fined alarm customers for false alarms. While there was a decrease during the first year of the ordinance, the city claimed in subsequent years there was no substantial decline in call volume.
In 2017, with false alarm calls still averaging 10,000 per year, the Sandy Springs City Council revised the alarm ordinance, placing fines on the alarm companies. The trend of high call volume with 99.5% of alarm calls false alarms continued, according to the city.
In March 2018, after the council approved amending the ordinance to shift the fines for false alarm violations from the customers to the alarm companies for the false alarms they reported to 911 on behalf of their customers, the companies and SIAC filed a federal lawsuit against the city.
In a SIAC press release on Monday, GELSSA President Scott Hightower states, “While we are disappointed in the court’s ruling, we are pleased that other cities have shown little interest in Sandy Springs’ vindictive approach to our industry.”
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