False Alarms Fines in New Orleans Are Going Up

Despite objections from local alarm companies, the City Council passed a new ordinance intended to curb false dispatches.

NEW ORLEANS – The City Council here has approved a new ordinance that will hike fines for false alarms in an effort to curb police dispatches to nuisance alarms.

According to The Times-Picayune, the council’s unanimous decision on June 18 reduces – from 10 to four – the number of false intrusion alarm calls necessary for the department to suspend its response, and streamlines the previous ordinance’s fine structure into three basic tiers:

• Written warning for first false alarm.
• $75 fine for second false alarm.
• $150 fine for third and fourth false alarm. Police will stop responding after the fourth alarm.

The false-alarm tally will reset each year, and property owners will have the opportunity to appeal penalties. The ordinance requires alarm monitoring companies to verify alarms – with the exception of panic or holdup alarms – before notifying police.

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Representatives of alarm companies and some residents opposed the measure, asking unsuccessfully for a delay of the council’s vote. 

For years, city officials and NOPD leaders have been aware of flaws in the false-alarm ordinance currently on the books, and a report last year from Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux identified false alarms as one of several areas of wasted manpower at the department, the newspaper reported.

About 11% of all NOPD service calls are for intrusion alarms, the department said, and the overwhelming majority of those calls (98.8%) turn out to be false.

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NOPD officers responded to roughly 48,000 false alarms last year, with about 5,300 addresses generating at least three false-alarm calls. City officials said the department spends about 12,000 staff hours and $400,000 in taxpayer dollars every year dealing with false alarms.

Officials estimate the proposed change, which is said to follow best practices from police departments across the country, should save the equivalent of six full-time officers and improve the department’s response times and proactive community policing efforts.

The ordinance proposal drew some pushback from alarm company representatives and residents, some of who urged the council to postpone its vote until more discussion is held on the ordinance’s potential public safety impacts, according to The Times-Picayune. But Councilman Jason Williams said the changes should free an understaffed police department to focus on improving public safety.

“Straight talk: We don’t have enough police,” Williams said during the June 18 meeting. “We aren’t going to have enough police for some time.”

The ordinance allows NOPD to hire a contractor to administer the program. Department spokesman Tyler Gamble said department plans to put out a request for proposals before selecting such a contractor, according to the newspaper.

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