5 Things to Know: Sandy Springs’ false alarm law starts today

Operator Kelah Handley answers calls at Sandy Springs’ 911 dispatch center Wednesday, April 17, 2019. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Operator Kelah Handley answers calls at Sandy Springs’ 911 dispatch center Wednesday, April 17, 2019. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Starting today, if you can’t prove a crime is happening, Sandy Springs police will not respond to your burglar alarm.

After eight years trying, tweaking and traveling, it's time to test the city's new guidelines, which include steep fines on alarm companies for repeated false alarms. Experts say this is the first city in Georgia whose police will not respond to home and business burglary alarms without video, audio or in-person verification that a crime is occurring.

Here’s what you need to know as the law takes effect:

The police will ignore some alarms

Of the 8,000 alarm calls last year, 99% were false alarms, said Sandy Springs police Chief Ken DeSimone. That accounted for 17% of all calls to the 911 dispatch center.

City leaders worry those false alarms distract police and dispatchers from actual emergencies. The city estimates it spent $750,000 in manhours and equipment responding to false alarms last year.

Why should I care if I don’t live there?

This law currently only affects the 14,080 registered alarms in the city of 100,000 residents, but it could set a legal precedent for other cities to follow. The law is being challenged by a group of alarm companies.

Frank Rotondo, executive director of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, previously said that, if the courts vindicate Sandy Springs, “you may see more cities or municipalities accept the Sandy Springs type of ordinance.”

Operator Kelah Handley answers calls at Sandy Springs’ 911 dispatch center Wednesday, April 17, 2019. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

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City says it’s ready even if you’re not

City spokeswoman Sharon Kraun said she doesn’t know how many alarm owners or alarm businesses are prepared for the new law because it is not the city’s responsibility to get everyone in compliance.

“Hopefully this will reduce the call volume like it’s intended to do,” she said.

Kraun said on Monday said that they were still getting calls from people asking basic questions about what to do.

Businesses hope they’re ready

Confusion has been a theme of the law's rollout. Despite a year of discussion about the city's plans to cut back on responding to home alarms, one alarm company owner feels not all city residents believe it will actually happen.

Vince Raia, president of EMC Security, said less than half of his 325 Sandy Springs customers contacted him to take the steps needed to get their home alarm system into compliance. That’s why he built in a 60-day buffer: EMC will send a guard to EMC’s homes to confirm an emergency is taking place. It’s up to each company to make sure their systems are in compliance so police will respond.

Sandy Springs Chief Ken DeSimone answers questions from residents about the city's new alarm law at City Hall on May 20, 2019.(Ben Brasch/AJC)

Credit: Ben Brasch/AJC

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Credit: Ben Brasch/AJC

Why are some people mad?

Residents don’t like hearing that officers won’t show up to possible emergencies at their homes or businesses.

The truth is that the cops weren’t rushing there anyway. DeSimone said the department’s average burglar alarm response time is 40 minutes, basically useless because a criminal is almost always gone by then.

A coalition of alarm companies claim the new fines are unfair, saying they punish businesses for having customers who don’t know how to use their devices. The Security Industry Alarm Coalition’s lawsuit against the city is pending in the 11th District Court of Appeals.

Stan Martin, head of the group, said Tuesday that the law is “a giant step backwards for public safety in the community and is not in keeping with nationwide best practices in alarm management and public safety.”

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They now want proof that there's an emergency before they'll respond.