The Sandy Springs City Council approved a last-minute change to its controversial security alarm verification requirement as confusion continues in the community about the proposal.
Alarm companies or residents will be required to provide verification to 911 starting June 19. But instead of providing evidence before officers will be dispatched, it will only be required within 24 hours.
The city changed its alarm ordinance in 2017 to shift fines to alarm companies. Requiring alarm verification was added in June 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.
Verification is only required when the building is unoccupied and is not needed for 911 calls, medical, panic and fire alarms. But the requirement is still causing confusion and concern among the community.
“I think it really is an overreach,” resident Marilyn Arkin said. “It was so unnecessary.”
The ordinance amendment 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. The alarm industry relies on a misuse of taxpayer dollars, the city says.
In a separate presentation, Capt. Dan Nable, who has overseen the alarm ordinance changes, detailed why the city feels verification is needed. The statistics on the city’s alarms have remained the same, Nable said. With about 10,000 calls per year, 99.5 percent 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.
Sandy Springs officials said they had visited cities that have successfully implemented verified response and lists them during community presentations about the alarm ordinance. Nearly all the cities are on the West Coast, and one still on the list is San Jose, Calif., which stopped requiring verification in August 2018.
A memo provided by the San Jose Police Department said it did so after burglaries rose and more officers were hired. Verification was originally implemented because of a lack of officers, and after the burglary “trend,” the city decided to reverse it.
“As the department rebuilds and gets stronger, and as residential and commercial burglaries increase, the need to respond to these calls for service is critical,” the memo said. The department started requiring verification in 2011.
Nable said the Sandy Springs is 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 verification options.
Several residents have had concerns about the cost of upgrading equipment or paying for a guard service to respond.
The city has said some companies are offering guard services for free along with a charge if the alarm turns out to be false. Other options are using self-installed cameras like the popular Nest and Ring or contracting with a private guard service without going through an alarm company. If an alarm company is quoting “excessive” prices to install audio or video equipment, the city has encouraged residents to look into these options.
Arkin said she opted for the one of those independent camera systems at a cost of $200 because her company would charge for the guard service.
“I still don’t want cameras. It’s an invasion of privacy,” she said. She also is concerned she won’t also be able to see alerts on her phone that the camera detected movement.
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.