Avondale Ordinance Overturned; Dealers Won’t Have to Foot False Alarm Fines

By Ashley Willis

AVONDALE, Ariz. — After battling with the Arizona Alarm Association (AzAA) for almost a year, the city council here has amended an ordinance that would have held alarm companies responsible for all false alarm fees.

In January, the city council adopted an ordinance that fined companies after a customer’s third false alarm, the Arizona Republic reports. The provision’s approval caught AzAA off-guard, as the group had been working closely with the city for more than a year, AzAA Executive Director Susan Brenton tells SSI.

“After many hours of work, we were surprised when the police department recommended an ordinance holding the alarm companies responsible for false alarm fees,” she says. “Vice Mayor Jim McDonald said, ‘The Alarm industry is making their money on the backs of the police department.’ So, the city council adopted it.”

The Avondale Police Department (APD) estimates that 98-percent of all the alarms it responds to are false. Additionally, APD says two officers respond to alarms and spend between 15 to 20 minutes at each location. As a result, the department estimates it spent more than $300,000 in police salaries from January 2007 to March 2010 responding to false alarms.

However, AzAA maintained that the ordinance was unjust and suggested that the city council amend the ordinance to hold subscribers responsible for false alarm fees. Thus, the association researched ordinances that held alarm companies responsible for false alarms. Through research, AzAA found that Fontana, Calif., had passed a similar ordinance, which caused the Inland Empire Alarm Association (IEAA) to take legal action.

“The IEAA was successful in a lawsuit finding that alarm companies could not be held responsible for the actions of their customers,” Brenton says. “So, AzAA and the Security Industry Alarm Coalition [SIAC] contacted the attorney who handled the case.”

The attorney sent a letter to the city, which outlined how the provision violated both state and federal law. As a result, the city council could not enforce the alarm ordinance adopted in January, Brenton says.

During the battle between AzAA and the city, the association illustrated how enhanced call verification (ECV) could reduce false alarms by 25 to 40 percent if added to the new ordinance.

On Dec. 5, the council amended the ordinance, now making alarm users responsible for false alarms unless users can prove that the alarm company caused the false alarm, Brenton says. The new provision also calls for ECV, and the alarm company is responsible for the initial alarm permit. An alarm subscriber will face fines of $150 for a third false alarm within one year. A fourth false alarm is $200, and each false alarm after that is $250.

For other associations that are undergoing a similar issue, Brenton offers a few tips on how alarm companies can take a stand.

“When you hear a jurisdiction is looking to enact or make a change to an ordinance, introduce yourself and organization and offer to work with them,” she suggests. “You can try working with them at first, but don’t be afraid to escalate if necessary. It’s also important to realize the value of having different companies and their customers at city council meetings to speak on proposed ordinance changes.”

Ashley Willis is associate editor for SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION. She can be reached at (310) 533-2419.

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