In June, Sandy Springs will require audio or video verification before responding to a security alarm, and the city is boosting outreach efforts to ensure alarm companies and customers are prepared. The new requirement is part of the city’s goal to reduce the number of false alarms that it says tie up public safety resources.
“Our goal is to reduce the number of false alarms, and we’re well on our way,” city spokesperson Sharon Kraun said during a presentation at the March 19 City Council meeting.
The city’s new alarm ordinance shifted fines for repeated false alarms to the security companies who service the alarm systems, rather than residents and business owners who use them. In 2018, the city 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.
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 ordinance has so far reduced the number of alarm calls, but the percentage that are false alarms remains around 99 percent, according to numbers presented by Police Capt. Dan Nable at a council meeting.
Kraun said that the city hopes the alarm companies are talking with their customers about what they both need to do to meet the new code. The city is ramping up educational efforts to ensure residents have accurate information, posting guidelines on social media and sending out mailers to residents.
The city recommends residents contact their alarm companies if they have not heard from them to understand what they are doing to comply with the ordinance. Residents should also do research on what options are available through their company and on their own.
Residents can either use equipment provided by companies or use self-installed monitoring systems, like the popular door cameras Ring and Nest. Companies also have the option to use security guards.
“Technology has advanced, and today, it is possible for an individual or a company to add these monitoring enhancements easily, which helps better determine if the activation is a potential break-in or the result of a non-emergency cause,” Kraun said.
Verification is not needed for 911 calls, medical, panic and fire alarms, and the fire and police departments will still respond to immediately to those.
The city has sent a survey to alarm companies with registered users in Sandy Springs to ask how they are planning to roll out required equipment and assist customers to comply with the new regulations. The city wants to ensure alarm companies have reached out to residents to let them know about the upcoming changes, and several responded that they have done so, the presentation said.
“We can understand the apprehension of residents, especially if their alarm companies are not working with their customers to provide enhance verification or not talking with customers at all about the changes coming,” Kraun said.
Several companies highlighted in the presentation reported on the survey that already offer audio and video verification equipment to customers and train them on how to operate it. Two of the companies already have video or audio verification built in to existing systems in homes, the presentation said.
“A lot of them are already providing video and audio verification, and they’re doing the outreach we’ve asked them to,” Kraun said.
Alarm companies initially fought back strongly to the city’s attempt to crack down on false burglar and fire alarms, saying the practice could lead to increase burglaries because law enforcement response would be delayed. Some residents have also expressed similar fears.
Last year, the Georgia Electronic Life Safety & System Association and two Georgia alarm companies sued the city over the ordinance.
The lawsuit was dismissed late last year, and alarm companies have become more cooperative and open to the changes the ordinance will bring, Nable said. EMC Security and Ackerman have said in meetings with the city they want to know the best way to make their systems compliant, Nable said.
“They both indicated they want to work hard to be good partners with Sandy Springs,” he said.
Mayor Rusty Paul said the city is willing to work with companies to ensure they are compliant and want to be “partners” with the companies.
“It is going to take a while, we understand that,” Paul said. “As long as they’re being cooperative, I think we can be cooperative.”