A federal court has dismissed a security industry lawsuit against Sandy Springs’ new false-alarm ordinance, saying there is no evidence it violates the company’s constitutional rights by fining them for customers’ mistakes. A security industry official says there is a “high probability” of appealing the dismissal.
The city’s attempt to crack down on false burglar and fire alarms with a new ordinance passed last year has shaken the security industry as a possible national model. The city says it gets thousands of alarm calls a year, of which about 99 percent are false, tying up police officers and firefighters and costing enormous sums of money.
“The city maintains that it is trying to resolve a public safety crisis created by the alarm industry,” said a city press release.
The core of the new ordinance is a system of fining security systems who service the alarm systems, rather than residents and business owners who use them, for repeated false alarms. The city says the new ordinance already has significantly reduced false-alarm responses, due to both fines and alarm companies canceling a police or fire dispatch after an initial call.
The security industry strongly opposed the ordinance. In March, the Georgia Electronic Life Safety & System Association and two Georgia alarm companies sued the city, claiming the ordinance violates their constitutional right to due process.
In a Dec. 12 order, Judge Amy Totenberg dismissed the lawsuit before trial, saying there is no basis for assuming a due-process violation. She said the city showed a rational basis for its ordinance and that the law allows this type of civil penalty to be placed on a company for actions involving its users.
“Of course, we’re disappointed the judge would not allow the case to be heard,” said Stan Martin, executive director of the Texas-based Security Industry Alarm Coalition, a nonprofit organization that is advising the Georgia plaintiffs in filing the lawsuit. “We certainly, respectfully don’t agree with the judge’s opinion.”
“I think there’s a high probability we’re going to file an appeal,” said Martin, adding that decision likely will be made next week.
In the face of the legal challenges, the city repeatedly tweaked the false-alarm ordinance, including to reduce fines and increase an appeal period. But, Martin said, the core due-process concern remains for his group.
Martin says his group has a model ordinance that would reduce false-alarms by better training users and improving their equipment, as well as fining them directly. That ordinance has support from national associations of police chiefs and sheriffs, he said.
But Sandy Springs says it used a previous model ordinance from the industry in 2013 and saw little improvement in false alarms, leading the city to adopt the new system. The new ordinance is already inspiring such neighboring cities as Brookhaven, which passed a similar code last year but put enforcement on hold pending the outcome of the Sandy Springs lawsuit.
And Sandy Springs has tightened its code further. Earlier this year, it added a requirement for alarm companies to provide direct confirmation that a burglar alarm call is a real crime – with audio or video devices or in person – before calling 911. That provision takes effect June 19 of next year.