Instead of requiring verification before dispatching officers to security alarm calls, Sandy Springs will now require video or audio evidence of an intrusion be provided within 24 hours. The City Council approved the change to its alarm ordinance less than a month from the controversial verification requirement taking effect.
The city in 2017 changed its alarm ordinance to shift fines for repeated false alarms to the security companies who service the alarm systems, rather than residents and business owners who use them. Requiring alarm verification, which goes into effect June 19, was added in 2018 and requires alarm companies provide direct confirmation that a burglar alarm call is a real crime – with audio or video devices or in person. Previously that was required before 911 would dispatch police, but it now instead has to be submitted within 24 hours after the alarm company calls for officers to respond.
Verification is only required when the building is unoccupied and is not needed for 911 calls, medical, panic and fire alarms.
The ordinance was passed unanimously with little discussion at the City Council’s May 21 meeting. But Joe Leonard, a staff attorney, said allowing extra time to provide verification was needed because technology that would make evidence available instantly to emergency responders is not widespread yet.
The change did not add extra penalties for not providing evidence within the 24 hours, Leonard said in response to a question from Councilmember Tibby DeJulio. The standard fines for false alarms that are already part of the ordinance would be assessed, Leonard said.
The city says the ordinance is needed because the vast majority of alarms are false, tying up police officers and costing money.
In a separate update presentation given by Capt. Dan Nable, who has overseen the alarm ordinance changes, he detailed again why the city feels verification is needed as it tries to prepare residents, businesses and alarm companies for the requirement to begin.
The statistics on the city’s alarms have remained the same, Nable said. With about 10,000 calls per year, 99.5% remain false.
“As you can see, this is a huge burden on the officers as far as time that’s taken out of their day,” Nable said.
He said they are still on track for the ordinance to take effect June 19, and conversations with companies and residents are “going reasonably well.” The city is working on “logistical issues” for ChatComm, the provider of the city’s 911 service, to receive video evidence, he said.
He said the city has “made every effort” to make residents and alarm companies aware about the verification requirement taking effect. The city also hosted an “expo” with 26 alarm companies to allow residents to talk with them about what verification options they offer.
The ordinance has been tweaked several times since passing in 2017, including adding the verification requirement in 2018 and later that year adding new requirements for alarm companies to alert customers if they are on a no-response list.
The director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition, one of the groups behind a lawsuit against Sandy Springs’ ordinance last year, said in a written statement he expects the verification and changes to cause confusion.
“No other city we are aware of has had to constantly amend and adjust its alarm ordinance in the manner we are seeing in Sandy Springs,” Stan Martin said. “The thoughtful consideration of the implications of new technology in alarm management is missing from the current ordinance and we predict continued confusion if Sandy Springs moves forward with verified response.”
Scott Hightower, the president of the Georgia Electronic Life Safety & System Association, which filed the lawsuit, pressed again for the verification requirement to be removed in a written statement.
“Based on the high cost to our customers and continuous amendments to the ordinance we urge Sandy Springs to not implement verified response and move forward working with industry experts on how to craft and enforce a version of the model ordinance utilized without controversy throughout the United States,” Hightower said.
For more information from the city on the new requirements, visit sandyspringsga.gov/alarm.