Thunder, wind, a barking dog: all have set off thousands of private security alarms in Sandy Springs.
The city has had enough, and starting next week, it will stop responding to emergency calls from 39 companies that have had false alarms and have failed to pay fines for them.
However, the alarm companies are fighting back. Last month, they filed a federal lawsuit claiming fines against the companies are unconstitutional.
Instead, they say, residents should be made to pay for any false alarms — whether or not user error is the cause.
“We all make mistakes,” said David R. Fuller, the president of Safecom Security Solutions, one of the companies that sued. “Billing a security company is not an answer.”
Safecom had more than $4,000 in fines and is among the companies that will no longer have its calls answered, if it doesn’t pay in the next few days. The city charges $25 for the first false alarm, then $250 each for the second and third, and then $500 for the fourth or more.
Before the city’s ultimatum, Fuller said Sandy Springs’ stance made him not want to do business there.
Sandy Springs has about 105,000 residents, and fewer than 20 percent of households use private security firms, said Sharon Kraun, a spokesperson for the city. There will still be 131 companies that are registered to provide the service in the city after the ban against some goes into effect. Among those whose alarms won’t be answered are popular companies like Ackerman, ADT and Xfinity Home.
In 2016, the city logged almost 12,000 false alarm calls and spent more than $775,000 in personnel costs on false alarm response, according to Sandy Springs. Last year, council members decided to fine the companies, not the users.
“In making changes to the ordinance, the alarm companies challenged us to hold them accountable, and we are complying with that request,” Sandy Springs City Attorney Dan Lee said in a statement. “If an alarm user failed to pay his alarm company, how long would the alarm company provide ongoing service? This is no different.”
In a release, the city said the companies were notified at 30, 60 and 90 days of their outstanding balance and that unpaid fines could result in a revocation of their registration. Even in refusing to respond to alarms from a number of companies, the city will still respond to fire alarms, duress calls, panic buttons and direct calls to 911.
Ken DeSimone, Sandy Springs’ police chief, said at a Tuesday council meeting that the problem with many alarm companies is that they tie up police officers by making them respond to false alarms, preventing police from responding to real emergencies.
DeSimone said police responded to 135 total false alarms from March 24 to March 30. Since the ordinance was implemented, the companies have been fined about $475,000 by the city. Only $156,000 has been paid.
Kraun said efforts to reduce the number of false alarms have been "an ongoing struggle." On the Sandy Springs Facebook page, residents vacillated between frustration with the companies and with the city.
“This is completely unacceptable,” wrote one resident. “Those of us who dutifully pay our Sandy Springs taxes and have no false alarms are being penalized.”
Wayne Back, CEO of A-Com said the industry has no control over individual false alarms, but is taking steps to reduce the number. His company has $625 in fines, but is not on the banned list.
“False alarms are not good for anybody,” said Beck, who is also a party to the lawsuit. “They’re impossible to stop, but we’re working toward controlling it.”
Stan Martin, executive director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition, compared the city ordinance to one that gave speeding tickets to car manufacturers, not drivers. He said in some cases, what are considered false alarms are attempted robberies, where someone walks away when an alarm goes off. And he said in no case does it make sense to charge alarm companies.
“You’ve got to assume they’re going to pass it on to the consumer anyway,” he said. “I’m hoping the city will get to some point of common sense on this thing.”
Most cities don’t fine companies for false alarms
Sandy Springs’ ordinance is a rare one in metro Atlanta.
Brookhaven is the only other city in the metro area that fines companies, not residents, for successive false alarms. Brookhaven passed its ordinance shortly after Sandy Springs in December 2017 and will assess fines to companies up to $250. The city said that false alarm calls between July 2016 and July 2017 cost it $194,815.
- Gwinnett County has a county-wide ordinance that will fine residences up to $100 for successive false alarms. After a fourth false alarm, a resident's alarm registration could be revoked.
- Cobb County also has a county-wide ordinance that fines residents. On the 10th false alarm, the user of the alarm can face a $400 fine.
- In Dunwoody, residents can be fined up to $500 for false alarms.
- In other north Fulton County cities – such as Roswell, Milton, Alpharetta and Johns Creek – residents are fined for successive false alarms.
- Mitchell Northam