Alarm Ordinance in Sandy Springs
Of the nearly 12,000 alarm calls received from monitored alarm systems in 2016, 97% of those were found to be false alarms, a statistic that is consistent across the county. The high percentage of false alarms results in a financial cost to the public and threat to public safety by the unnecessary diversion of public safety resources.
The main intent of the False Alarm Ordinance is to hold the alarm companies and their customers more accountable for false alarms, reducing the number of unnecessary police and fire responses.
Alarm Companies are defined as individuals, companies or other entities engaged in the business of planning, installing, servicing, maintaining, repairing, and/or monitoring alarm systems. Under the False Alarm Ordinance, alarm companies working with customers located within the City of Sandy Springs must be registered with the City. In addition, the Alarm Company must complete an alarm permit registration application for each of its customers.
Companies which monitor alarm systems, but do not install alarm equipment are considered Alarm Companies and must register its customers in accordance to the Alarm Ordinance.
In accordance with State of Georgia law, Enhanced Verification is required. An alarm can be verified by visual or audible confirmation, private security or eyewitnesses, or telephone verification using the two resources provided by the Alarm Company’s customer. Telephone verification requires a second call if no one can be reached at the first number who is able to verify the alarm. Alarm Companies are required to maintain a record of all calls to the 911 Center, including the date, time of the call, location of the alarm, and the name, address and phone number of the alarm user.
On May 1, 2018, the Sandy Springs City Council approved a change to Section 18-36 of the City’s Code of Ordinances related to Alarm Permits. The attached amendment provides that when an alarm company has its permit suspended for noncompliance with the Ordinance, the alarm company MUST PROVIDE WRITTEN NOTICE TO ITS CONTRACTING ALARM USERS, notifying them that the alarm company is no longer entitled to request public safety department response to activated intrusion alarms. Failure of the alarm company to notify its customers as provided shall result in a suspension of the alarm company’s permit for a total of three (3) months following the alarm company coming into full compliance with the provisions of the Ordinance.
The approved change is effective immediately.
Below is a communication sent to local Homeowners Associations from SIAC, the Security Industry Alarm Coalition, regarding the City of Sandy Springs Alarm Ordinance and the City’s most recent proposed changes to help ensure the safety of all of its citizens. Following a reprint of the SIAC email, the City is providing information to correct errors and clarify misleading statements.
Notice from SIAC sent to Homeowner’s Associations
From: David Margulies
Subject: Concerning city's new alarm ordinance
We would like to provide you with some important information concerning the new Sandy Springs alarm ordinance. Rather than adopt the model ordinance that has dramatically reduced false alarm calls throughout the U.S. the city has chosen a complex system of fining alarm companies that can lead to citizens without false alarms losing police response. The fines in the ordinance are extraordinarily high and will eventually be passed on to home and business owners as well as schools, places of worship or other facilities that depend on alarm for protection.
Despite claims by the city to the contrary, Sandy Springs did not try the complete model ordinance that was developed by the alarm industry as well as leaders in law enforcement. The city is currently being sued to overturn the ordinance. The alarm industry would like to provide you with additional information that will help voters better understand this issue and hopefully move the city to a more reasonable approach we know will be successful. Would you like to arrange a conference call or another avenue to obtain additional information?
Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC)
City of Sandy Springs Response:
While SIAC would like for the community to believe that the issue with false alarms is new and unique to Sandy Springs, the problem with false alarms is centuries old. Based on a joint report on Verified Response and the alarm industry released in 2004 by the police agencies of Las Vegas Metro, Salt Lake City, UT, Arvada, CO, Salem, OR, West Valley City, UT, Broomfield, CO, Lakewood, CO, Westminster, CO, and South Salt Lake, UT, the first attempt at dealing with the problem of false alarms dates back to 1984. The alarm industry introduced the Model States Plan in 1995, with SIAC forming in 2004, later introducing the 2-call telephone verification as part of the plan.
“Law Enforcement was told that by following the alarm industry advice, cities would recover their cost of enforcement and reduce the number of police responses to false alarms. All of these alarm industry efforts heavily burden the police with the responsibility for reduction and enforcement of the false alarm problem. To date, none of these programs have had long-term success at either false alarm reduction or cost recovery.”
In January 2003, the New York Times also wrote about the impact of false alarms on police agencies.
“For police chiefs all over the nation these days, the biggest concern is often not drugs, not gangs, not burglars, but burglar alarms. The problem: the alarms ring ceaselessly, usually without a break-in. According to a Justice Department report last year, police officers nationwide responded to 38 million burglar alarms in 1998, but up to 98 percent of them were false. These false alarms cost the police an estimated $1.5 billion, the report found, and accounted for 10 percent to 25 percent of all police calls.”
The article continues with a look at Los Angeles which was struggling with 127,000 burglar alarm calls in 2001, with 97 percent of those false alarms.
“Part of the false alarm problem, experts say, is caused by private alarm companies selling services and then, in essence, shifting their costs onto the police.”
According to SIAC, “Rather than adopt the model ordinance that has dramatically reduced false alarm calls throughout the U.S. the city has chosen a complex system of fining alarm companies that can lead to citizens without false alarms losing police response.” This statement is false.
The City adopted the model ordinance recommended by the alarm industry in November 2012, which places all responsibility for false alarms on the customer. After several years of implementation and little movement to decrease the number of false alarm calls into the Emergency 911 Center, the City researched how other cities were making improvements. Cities using verified response, in which the alarm company uses video, audio, or in-person verification dramatically reduced the number of false alarm calls.
The fact is that the Model Plan suggested by the alarm industry leaves the city with the burden of responsibility for fulfilling a private civic contract between the alarm company and its customer, the alarm user. Alarm companies do not have control over police priorities for dispatch. Despite that fact, the alarm industry represents in its marketing unrealistic promises of “fast response.”
In October 2017, the City took an interim step towards Verified Response updating its Ordinance placing responsibility on the alarm companies, as it is the alarm company which calls 911 to report a false alarm, not its customers. The Ordinance also requires alarm companies to properly register the company and its customers and comply with the State of Georgia’s mandated 2-call verification (also a requirement of the alarm industry’s model ordinance). Between October 2017 and March 2018, more than 60 percent of all fines accessed to the alarm companies were related to failure to register and failure to comply with State’s required 2-call verification, activities 100 percent under the control of the alarm companies.
SIAC also claims the fines imposed “are extraordinarily high and eventually passed on to the customer.”
This is not an issue about fines; it is an issue of public safety. As part of proposed changes presented during the Tuesday, April 17, 2018, City Council meeting, the City plans to reduce its fine structure to $25 for a first false alarm, $150 for a second false alarm, and $250 for a third false alarm related to burglar alarms. The choice is up to the alarm industry on penalizing its customers.
The real issue is the volume of calls coming into the Emergency 911 Center, causing a delay in response to callers with actual emergencies. Between 2014 – 2017, an average of 17 percent of calls to the 911 Center were from alarm companies, with 98 percent of those calls false alarms. Each of these false alarm calls takes approximately 2-4 minutes for a 911 operator to handle, the time taken away from responding to a true emergency call.
More than 30 cities have moved to Verified Response, requiring electronic visual, audio or in-person verification by the alarm company before calling 911 with positive results. Technology today makes it possible, not just for alarm companies, but for individuals to verify through these means. The real question is why alarm companies continue to use an antiquated model and systems, putting their customers and the community at risk by congesting 911 Centers with false alarm calls.
Alarm companies found non compliant are not eligible for public safety response on intrusion (burglar) alarms. Public Safety will always respond to Fire, Panic and Hold-Up alarm calls from alarm companies.
Less than 20 percent of the residences in Sandy Springs utilize a monitored alarm system, yet approximately 18 percent of all calls coming into the 911 Emergency Center (ChatComm) are from alarm companies. More than 99+ percent of those calls are false alarms, representing 10,000+ calls each year. The high percentage of false alarms is consistent with national statistics dating back more than 20 years. These false alarm calls pose a public safety threat as 911 operators handling these false calls are delayed in assisting those callers with real emergencies, in addition to diverting public safety personnel from focusing on real public safety priorities.
The City’s Alarm Ordinance requires alarm companies to register the company and its customers with the city and comply with the State of Georgia’s requirement for two-call verification prior to calling 911 for dispatch. The alarm company is fined for a false alarm when public safety is dispatched to an alarm address where no evidence of a crime has occurred. The intent of the Alarm Ordinance is to reduce the number of false alarms in the city, improving the safety of ALL residents of Sandy Springs.
Response to SIAC Article
The City has continued to respond to alarm calls made by these companies, giving them time to come into compliance.
Below is an article issued by the alarm company in response to the City’s action. The City has included its response to the inaccuracies contained in the story.
Below are several of the inquiries the City has received asking for clarification and our response:
Q: "I began my calls with Protection One which said that we need a homeowner’s permit and that it was our responsibility to secure one. Many calls and much later I spoke to Captain Nable of the Sandy Springs Police Department who handles homeowners’ permits. He confirmed that we DO NOT have a permit but that it is Protection One’s job to secure one for us. When I spoke to Protection One, the rep seemed surprised that his company had to secure the permit since most areas of the country require the homeowner to do that. The rep has told me he has started the process that will end in us getting a permit. I have little confidence that will occur."
A. Per the City's ordinance, all alarm companies must register the company and its customers with the city. Alarm companies get a permit, then register their alarm sites. The alarm companies were notified in writing of the registration requirements when the ordinance was passed in September 2017. To date, Protection One is registered with the city, which is a good indicator that the company is well aware of the registration requirement.
Q: “I’m sure the security companies received notices — did it dawn on anyone to proactively warn residents that was going to happen and that their alarm monitoring is now useless.”
A: The alarm companies received notices at the 30, 60, and 90 past due mark, with each notice warning of the revocation of license and placement on Non Response status. In addition, alarm users are sent a courtesy copy of the notices sent to the alarm companies when a false alarm occurs, and these notices contain information about the consequences when accounts are not kept up-to-date.
The alarm company provides a fee for service with its customer base and is responsible for maintaining that relationship. The City’s only mechanism for informing the broad customer base across all alarm companies is through public notice, which occurred this week. Alarm companies were given official written notice on April 4, 2018 and have 5 business days in which to come into compliance before being placed on a Non Response status.
Q: The two call policy is BS and antiquated. Who has a home phone line anymore?!?
A: The two-call policy is state-mandated verification. A landline is not required. Cell phones or other means of electronic communications qualify to receive calls in an attempt to verify the validity of an alarm. The calls are intended to provide verification that something is amiss at the property. That is why it is recommended that in addition to the property owner, a neighbor or someone who can quickly view a property site is one of the people your monitoring company can call to verify. Video and audio capabilities are also valuable tools in providing verification.
Q: Those of us who dutifully pay our Sandy Springs taxes and have no false alarms are being penalized. What recourse do we have if SSPD doesn’t respond to an alarm at our property?
A: If you have an emergency, please call 911. Public Safety will always respond to panic, holdup and fire alarms, in addition to a resident who calls 911 directly. You also can choose to do business with a different alarm company.
Additionally, the fees alarm companies receive are not only for false alarms. Alarm companies are fined for failure to register the company and its customers and for failure to properly verify through the state’s mandated two-call verification.
Q: When billing the alarm company you create an incentive for the alarm company to hesitate before notifying police or fire for fear of it being a false alarm.
A: A false alarm occurs, not when the alarm sounds, but when an alarm company calls 911 without properly verifying that an actual emergency is occurring. Approximately 18% of all calls into the 911 system are made by alarm companies. The ordinance is intended to encourage alarm companies to properly verify before calling 911. Each of these false alarm calls is a drain on public safety resources. It starts with the 911 operator who spends several minutes taking in the information from the alarm company. While that 911 operator is talking to the alarm company regarding a false alarm, the operator is not able to take in other calls, meaning real emergency calls are left in que, waiting. Our current trend is 10,000 plus calls into 911 by alarm companies each year, in which 98+% are false – holding up real emergency calls.
Q: From Sunbelt Alarm Co: We were never informed of the ordinance and found out the information was sent to an old address from 3 years ago. … I would like to know the alarm system percentage of the 39 companies on the list and ask what percentage is left of companies to choose from for Sandy Springs residents who are typically under contract?
A: All alarm companies working within Sandy Springs were notified of the ordinance change through email communication as well as via mail. The change in address for your company was made on Nov 28, 2017. We also note that a representative from your company contacted us on Nov 16, 2017 to inquire about fines, and she was told during that call that the company was not registered and was sent the needed registration materials. The registration forms, sent via email, were returned on Jan. 24, 2018. There are currently 170 alarm companies registered with the City of Sandy Springs.
Q: For the 900+ true false alarms last year, the other 90,000 citizens of Sandy Springs are penalized?
A: Having a monitored alarm system in your home is a personal choice. Less than 20% of our residences have a monitored alarm system installed. However, approximately 18% of calls into our 911 center are made by alarm companies, with 98+% of those calls false. Less than 2% of calls made by alarm companies into 911 are related to an actual emergency.
In addition, $775,000+ in taxpayer dollars is spent annually in personnel and equipment costs in support of fostering the alarm industry, a for-profit business. For the more than 80% of residents who choose not to pay for a monitored alarm system, use of those dollars for false alarms may not be considered a wise spend.
Public Safety is a priority for the city, and the efforts of our public safety personnel has resulted in an overall reduction in crime since the City’s incorporation as well as an improvement in our ISO rating for fire service. All members of the community can call 911 and receive prompt response from police and fire.
Q: ."You have just sent notice to all criminals that Sandy Springs Police will not respond to alarm calls."
A: The policy affects response to intrusion alarms only, and only impacts those alarm companies who refuse to do their part to stay in compliance with the law. Panic, holdup and fire alarms will continue to have public safety response, and we ALWAYS respond to 911 call made directly by individuals.
Traditional monitored alarm systems only indicate a sensor issue. They do not qualify if that sensor break is due to an intruder or your pet. That is why verification is important and required under state law. Criminals know that they have a limited window of opportunity when breaking into a home or business, and they are in and out within minutes. Nationally, more than 98% of all monitored alarm calls are false alarms, with this percentage consistent over decades. Put into numbers, in Sandy Springs, that equals more than 10,000 false alarm calls each year.
The City has tried to work with the alarm industry. The City’s original ordinance was designed with input from the alarm industry, but did little to reduce the overall number of false alarms coming into our 911 center. We again asked the alarm industry for input and was told to hold alarm companies accountable, which we are doing. Almost 40% of the fines incurred by the alarm companies since October 2017 are preventable, procedural violations made by the alarm company: failure to register the company and its customers, and failure to conduct the state-mandated two-call verification.
A false alarm occurs when your alarm company calls 911 without properly verifying if a true emergency. While 911 operators are busy taking false alarm calls, individuals calling in actual emergencies are left waiting. This is a life safety issue. That is why the alarm company is held accountable.
CryWolf Services, Inc. is the alarm administrator for the City of Sandy Springs. To register an Alarm Company or any of its customers, the Alarm Company should call 1-855-725-7101.
Violations of the Alarm Ordinance & Fines
Fines for false alarms are assessed to the Alarm Company, not the individual alarm user.
Alarm Companies are billed directly for all false alarm fees. The fee structure is designed to recover the costs of public safety dispatch and response by the City.
Administrative Fines include failure to register an alarm company or alarm system and improper paperwork. A full list is below.
False Alarms are those calls made by an Alarm Company to the 911 Center in which public safety personnel are enroute to a property location in which the call proves to be unfounded. Cancelled alarms where the alarm is cancelled, but the officer has already checked the premise, are also considered false alarms. An alarm which is cancelled prior to the officer being sent to the premise is not considered a false alarm.
Calls made to 911 without Enhanced Call Verification conducted prior to the request for dispatch are administrative violations which disqualifies an alarm for response in addition to a fine to the alarm company.
Alarm Companies are not restricted from passing along false alarm fines to its customers. Alarm users are encouraged to understand their Alarm Company’s policies and procedures related to false alarms and assessment / payment of fines when entering an agreement with the Alarm Company.
The following are the false alarm and administrative assessments:
1 False Alarm
2-3 False Alarms
$250.00 per occurrence
4+ False Alarms
$500.00 per occurrence
Failure to register alarm company and/or provide the City with a list of all current alarms in operation within city limits
Failure to notify City prior to putting an alarm in operation
Failure to timely notify alarm administrator of changes to list of alarm users
Failure to verify activated intrusion alarm
Failure to provide dispatch w/ permit number
Failure to maintain or present records
Installation of non-recessed holdup alarm button
Public safety departments will not respond to an activated alarm system at an alarm site following the fourth false alarm within any 24-month period. Such suspension of alarm response shall be for a period of one calendar year following the date the determination is made to suspend response. Response is always provided for panic, duress, hold-up and fire alarms.
Alarm Companies may appeal an assessment of a false alarm fine or permit suspension to the Alarm Administrator by submitting in writing the reasons for the appeal within ten (10) days of the date of the notice sent.
Appeals should be sent to: email@example.com or mailed to: PO Box 102117, Atlanta, GA 30368-2117.
Please include alarm company name and permit number, the alarm customer’s name and permit number, alarm location, date of the false alarm, reasons for the appeal, and any supporting evidence. An appeal form is available for the alarm company to use in filing by the City’s administrative vendor, CryWolf.
Alarm users assessed fees by their alarm company need to appeal those fees directly to the Alarm Company. An alarm user can work in cooperation with its alarm company by providing information which can be used in the appeal filed by the alarm company. It is suggested that the alarm user check with the alarm company regarding false alarm policies, including a non-payment policy, pending an appeal of a false alarm.
Preventing False Alarms
Preventing false alarms is a shared responsibility between the alarm company and its customers. The City encourages customers to work with their alarm company to ensure that equipment is well maintained and that all users within a home or business know how to properly operate the alarm system. Additional considerations:
• Install reliable alarm equipment and make sure
• Make sure you and those who will activate the alarm are properly educated on the system’s operation from your alarm company.
• In determining the two contacts required by the State of Georgia for Enhanced Verified Response, consider carefully those contacts – who is the best person to help your alarm company determine if an activation merits a police response. Also, be sure to have your monitoring company’s phone number saved in your phone, so you recognize the number should they call you.
• If you do set your alarm off accidentally, disarm your system as soon as possible and give your alarm monitoring station the necessary password and ID number to have the 9-1-1 call canceled.
• When a false alarm occurs, identify the cause:
◦ Door or window left open/unsecured
◦ Air conditioner or heater, moving blinds, doors, etc
◦ Janitor/cleaning crew
◦ Alarm not set properly