SIAC Joins Battle to Challenge Sandy Springs, Ga., Alarm Ordinance
The most serious provision that Sandy Springs officials plan to enforce would suspend police response to all of a security dealer’s customers if any single fine is not paid.
FRISCO, Texas — The Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC) is joining with the Georgia Electronic Life Safety & System Association (GELSSA) to contest an ordinance in Sandy Springs, Ga., that would fine alarm companies instead of the end user when systems generate a false alarm.
The suit was filed on March 12 in the United States Districts Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
“There is no question that this type of unconstitutional ordinance has the potential to be a major disruption to our industry,” SIAC Executive Director Stan Martin states in an announcement. “The City of Sandy Springs is completely out of step with modern alarm management practices. They passed an ordinance that we believe is unconstitutional because it makes alarm companies responsible for the actions of a third party they do not control.”
“If the industry allows this type of ordinance to become the norm it will be faced with huge administrative and legal costs, disputes with customers and a process that will be less effective than best practices for reducing alarm dispatches,” states Dan Gordon, GELSSA president. “Passing customer fines to alarm companies cannot be an option on the table when discussing alarm management.”
The lawsuit notes that alarm companies do not have any sort of “master-servant” or “principal-agent” relationship with alarm users and are not in a position to supervise, direct or control the actions of their customers. Yet, despite these facts the ordinance imposes draconian fines on alarm companies, according to SIAC. Under the ordinance, the first false alarm is fined at $25, second and third false alarms are $250 and $500 for a fourth or additional false alarms in any 24-month period.
The most serious provision that Sandy Springs officials plan to enforce would suspend police response to all of a security dealer’s customers if any single fine is not paid, according to the associations. In the announcement, SIAC and GELSSA envision the potential for a former customer to switch to a competitor and not notify the city. The dealer could receive a bill in error, refuse to pay it, and run the risk that an entire customer base then be subject to no-response.
Since the ordinance became effective, alarm companies have been subjected to tens of thousands of dollars in civil penalties for the actions of alarm users who have caused “false alarms” as determined by the city and billed by Cry Wolf Services, the city’s third-party alarm administrator, according to the announcement.
Alarm companies are not provided with any opportunity to be heard prior to receiving notice of the false alarm determination and related fine. At most, alarm companies are given a 10-day window to file a written notice appealing Sandy Springs unilateral decision, at which point they are given a hearing before a hearing officer designated by the police chief or fire chief.
The 10-day window fails to provide alarm companies with a meaningful opportunity to gather evidence in support of their appeals or to otherwise conduct a sufficient investigation into the circumstances causing the alarm activation, according to the announcement.
The appeals are also subject to a fee-shifting provision, which provides the following, “In the event the appeal is not upheld, the owner or alarm company shall also be responsible for any fee assessed to reimburse the city for any costs incurred by the hearing officer…” The lawsuit argues that the ordinance is unconstitutional because it denies due process guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. The ordinance also allows the city to suspend police response after four alarms in 24-months but to continue to levy fines.
The lawsuit notes that “the decision-making process by Sandy Springs, coupled with the expedited appellate procedures, fail to provide adequate procedural safeguards against the unlawful and unconstitutional imposition of civil penalties against alarm companies.”
“We appreciate SIAC offering its expertise and support in helping us in this important fight,” says Gordon. “If this unconstitutional ordinance is allowed to stand, our industry will face this same type of issue from other communities who have the mistaken belief that fining alarm companies is an effective way to deal with alarm issues.”
Gordon continues: “SIAC needs continued financial support from the industry to help defray legal expenses, identify problem ordinances, promote the model ordinance that incorporates well-documented best practices for alarm management and help lead the fight against ordinances such as the one in Sandy Springs.”
To learn more about SIAC or to donate, visit siacinc.org.
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