From June 2015: Cobb County police detective M. J. Hill combs the surrounding area of the Masters Inn on Windy Hill Road after a man was shot and killed on the breezeway of the motel. 
Photo: John Spink/AJC
Photo: John Spink/AJC

Alpharetta hotels that are a drain on police, 911 could be fined

Alpharetta hotels that generate too many 911 calls are now subject to fines and could be forced to hire off-duty police officers.

The Alpharetta City Council on Monday approved the new law, which may be the first of its kind in Georgia. The law penalizes hotels that are a drain on the city’s police department. The city will measure the number of calls placed from each hotel and also consider the number of rooms in assessing any penalties.

For instance, more than 42 calls for service in a year at a 100-room hotel means the business would be required to hire an off-duty Alpharetta police officer for 8 hours each night at a cost of $90,000 a year. They would also have to install fencing or lighting if needed and could be fined $5,000 each year until the number of calls are reduced.

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There were multiple last-minute adds to the law after hot debate between council members. One of the additions was a mandatory review of the law after one year. But the law wouldn’t start this year and might not begin until 2021, said Councilman Jason Binder, creator of the ordinance.

Binder said the city said it has been in touch with hotels currently at risk of violating the law. No hoteliers spoke against the law at the meeting.

The City Council approved the law 4-3, with dissenting votes from Mayor Jim Gilvin and council members John Hipes and Dan Merkel.

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The trio generally described the law as clumsy and not aiding enforcement. The ordinance was modeled after one in Indianapolis, a metropolitan city more than 14 times the size of Alpharetta with its less than 60,000 residents.

Amy Henderson, spokeswoman for the Georgia Municipal Association, said in February, when the Alpharetta law was first proposed and tabled, that she didn’t know of any others in Georgia with a similar law.

According to a presentation at the meeting Monday, 911 data from the city’s 25 hotels last year indicated four would have been in tier two or three. Those four accounted for 12% of the city’s hotel rooms but 30% of hotel calls. Councilwoman Karen Richard added that there are eight more hotels either under construction or approved in the city.

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The types of 911 calls that count against the hotel would be things like drug use and prostitution, not fire alarms and medical calls.

The new law would create a tiered system for penalties against the hotels. More than 42 calls for police at a 100-room hotel would put it in tier 3, which carries the strictest penalties. That requires the business to hire an off-duty city police officer at $45 an hour for eight hours every night, and puts the hotel at risk of having their business license revoked.

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Money from fines would go toward a $200 reward for any hotel employee who makes a call leading to an arrest.

The two citizens who spoke to the council were against the law. Alpharetta resident Valerie Manley said she wanted the elected officials to try again on the hotel safety ordinance because she agrees to “having something in place before that’s a problem.”

As for the passionate debate during the meeting, Binder said “political theater was chosen over” fixing a public safety issue.

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But the city doesn’t have a larger hotel crime problem compared to other cities, Alpharetta police’s Chief John Robison when asked by the Council.

Councilman Hipes raised several concerns: When does a hotel get off probation? How does the city know if the person calling is an employee or not? Why do calls for service not ending in an arrest count against a hotel?

Hipes, a trial attorney, said the law “exposes the city” to legal action and hurts the reputation of Alpharetta’s high-quality hotel industry.

Merkel said instituting the policy gave other cities and businesses that wrong idea that “Alpharetta has a hotel drug and prostitution problem … that’s the word that’s getting out.”

He said the numbers presented to the City Council were “manipulated” and untrustworthy. “This is about as twisted up as a tacklebox.”

Responding to the argument that this isn’t needed, Binder said: “We’re a safe city, but it doesn’t mean we don’t have issues we can’t address.”

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