Imagine that you own two homes – one in Nashville, Tenn., and one in Sandy Springs, Ga. At both of these homes, you hire a security company to install a standard alarm system, consisting of door contacts, motion sensors and glass-break detectors. You also pay a monthly fee for professional monitoring services for each alarm system.
While you and your family are enjoying a beautiful cruise overseas, both of these homes are burglarized by different groups of bad guys. The alarm systems in each home work as designed and generate multiple alarm signals during each burglary. These signals are transmitted to each respective monitoring company – both of which attempted to verify the alarms and, ultimately, dispatch the police.
In Nashville, the police were dispatched promptly and apprehended the bad guys within minutes of the alarm. As a result, no personal property was lost in the burglary and the bad guys were put in jail. In Sandy Springs, the police were not dispatched, the bad guys were not apprehended, and you lost an abundance of valuable personal property during the burglary.
Why such divergent results? Why is this a “Tale of Two Cities?” The answer resides in how the State of Tennessee and Sandy Springs, Georgia have decided to attack the problem of false alarms.
A Contrast in Laws
On May 8, 2019, Tennessee passed a new law that prohibits local governments from requiring installing security contractors and businesses to obtain permits for the operation of alarm systems. The law also includes language to prohibit local governments from imposing fines or fees on security dealers or businesses for false alarms. Fees related to false alarm dispatches, alarm permits or alarm renewal permits are also prohibited as against security contractors and businesses, but may be assessed against home and business owners (read more at www.securityinfowatch.com/21080735).
In contrast, the City of Sandy Springs, Georgia – like a few other cities around the country – amended its alarm ordinance to require alarm monitoring companies to provide “True Verification,” through audio, video or in-person verification, and prior to calling the police and attempting a dispatch (Read more at www.securityinfowatch.com/21081896). In other words, effective June 19, officers will not respond to any home/business alarms that cannot be confirmed as a crime.
According to the City of Sandy Springs, the alarm company has the duty to verify an activation as an indicator of a bona fide crime – rather than just a sensor activation – before requesting public safety response. Any alarm signal that can be verified will receive a priority response. It should be noted that other signals, such as fire or panic, are expressly exempted from the “True Verification” procedures and will result in a dispatch. Notably, under the Sandy Springs alarm ordinance, false alarm fine are imposed on the security provider, not the homeowner.
This latest amendment to the Sandy Springs ordinance builds upon existing state law in Georgia which already required alarm companies reporting an activation to engage in two-call verification prior to requesting dispatch.
Targeting the Alarm Provider
Indeed, Sandy Springs is not alone. Similar laws/ordinances requiring verification and shifting the burden to the security company have been adopted in other U.S. cities, including major ones like Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Seattle and Detroit. These cities also cite the high rate of false alarms as the primary motivator for the changes in law.
In promoting its ordinance, Sandy Springs lists a series of steps that can be taken to reduce false alarms. Ironically, nearly every step listed is in the exclusive control of the homeowner, not the security provider. This suggests that the homeowner plays the most central role in mitigating the high rate of false alarms – a point most municipalities seem to accept.
Despite this, the Sandy Springs Police Department argues that the security business “is an industry that anchors its business model on the use of taxpayer-funded public services” and, therefore, it should bear the burden of the high false alarm rate. While I do not agree with its legislative approach, Sandy Springs is correct that the security industry does rely heavily on the contributions of law enforcement to its core business.
With the proper balance of user education, technological advancement and sensible regulation, we can – and must – preserve the historically strong public-private partnership between law enforcement and the security industry. If we do not continue to promote this partnership, then we will undermine public safety and economic opportunity – a result that neither Tennessee or Sandy Springs wishes for any of us.
Timothy J. Pastore, Esq., is a Partner in the New York office of Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads LLP (www.mmwr.com), where he is Vice-Chair of the Litigation Department. Before entering private practice, Mr. Pastore was an officer and Judge Advocate General (JAG) in the U.S. Air Force and a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice. Reach him at (212) 551-7707 or by e-mail at [email protected].