Cobb County, Ga., considers false alarm ordinance

Owners of homes and business in Cobb County who have security alarms would have to register the systems annually and pay a $10 permit fee, based on a proposal to be considered Tuesday by the county commission.

The proposal also carries a $100 fine for failing to register.

If an alarm system owner has more than 10 false alarms or fails to pay the fine, police will not respond to an alarm unless 911 is called or there is verified criminal activity, according to the proposal.

With more than 38 million alarm systems in homes and businesses nationwide, the growing cost of responding to false alarms is moving governments toward finding ways to control the problem. For a decade, many metro area governments have imposed fines for repeated false alarms, but Cobb is the first to propose a fee for registering the systems.

Gwinnett County has had registration since 2001, and many cities, including Marietta, which started Jan. 1, require a no-cost registration. Alpharetta, which for 11 years has had a fine system in place for repeated false alarms, has no registration fee, but imposes a $50 fee for a false alarm from a system that is not registered.

The Cobb proposal that will go before the County Commission does not specify a registration fee; it says the amount will be set by the county. However, Cobb police Maj. Ronnie Prince, whose department will oversee the system, said the police department will recommend $10.

"The fee was proposed to place importance on the registration. If no fee is attached, the likelihood of registration would be diminished," Prince said. "This is based on successful models throughout the country." The fee would be waived for people 62 and older.

Of nearly 390,000 Cobb police dispatches in 2007, more than 42,000 --- almost 11 percent annually or 116 per day --- were false alarms from security systems, Prince said. That cost patrol officers about four hours of their 40-hour week.

"In most cases, there's two officers responding to a call --- the officer and a backup --- and the average time from the call until they are available again is 20 minutes," Prince said. "That's additional effort and time that is better spent patrolling."

The Cobb ordinance is modeled on one approved by the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police.

Most police departments contend that the fines have pared false alarms, but at least locally, there is difficulty putting numbers in context because the area's growth rate adds so many alarm systems at homes and businesses each year.

Gwinnett County, Cobb's most analogous in size, has about 63,500 registered alarm systems, including about 50,000 in homes. It does not charge a registration fee.

In 2007, Gwinnett recorded 30,427 false alarms, issued 14,035 notices of fines and collected $209,000 in fines. The prior year, it had 30,148 false alarms, issued 19,971 notices of fines and collected $346,587 in fines.

Nationally, most false alarms occur because of user error, according to Mark Visbal, director of research and technology for the Security Industry Association. "We know it is 80 to 90 percent," he said.

"People do think about it --- they forget their code, the dog bumps the door, they open the garage door and they don't call to say it is a false alarm," Visbal said.

Cobb Major Prince said if you trip an alarm by mistake, call your alarm company immediately or call 911 and tell police not to respond.

He said he hoped a benefit of the Cobb ordinance would be to create more responsibility.

"Now government will have the information that this is my alarm at my residence. We hope that will make a difference," Prince said.

SOUNDING THE ALARM

Proposed fines for false alarms in a year:

Third time..$50

Fourth......75

Fifth ......100

Sixth ......125

Seventh ....150

Eighth......200

Ninth ......250

10th........300


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