SANDY SPRINGS, GA — A conglomerate of alarm companies is teaming up to challenge the city of Sandy Springs’ ordinance cracking down on the number of false alarms reported the city. The Security Industry Alarm Coalition and the Georgia Electronic Life Safety & System Association earlier this month filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
"There is no question that this type of unconstitutional ordinance has the potential to be a major disruption to our industry," said Stan Martin, SIAC executive director. "The city of Sandy Springs is completely out of step with modern alarm management practices. They passed an ordinance that we believe is unconstitutional because it makes alarm companies responsible for the actions of a third party they do not control."
According to the suit, alarm companies are in no position to supervise or control the actions of their customers. The ordinance, the companies allege, "imposes draconian fines on alarm companies."
The city passed its ordinance in July 2017, despite pushback from some in the industry who informed city leaders of their concerns. Under the ordinance, the first false alarm is fined at $25, second and third false alarms are $250 and $500 for a fourth or additional false alarms in a 24-month period.
"If the industry allows this type of ordinance to become the norm it will be faced with huge administrative and legal costs, disputes with customers and a process that will be less effective than best practices for reducing alarm dispatches," said Dan Gordon, GELSSA president. "Passing customer fines to alarm companies cannot be an option on the table when discussing alarm management."
The companies contend they have been subjected to "tens of thousands of dollars in civil penalties" due to the actions of their end users. They also say they are not given any opportunity to be heard before receiving a false alarm notice and subsequent fine.
"At most, alarm companies are given a short, 10-day window to file a written notice appealing Sandy Springs unilateral decision, at which point they are given a hearing before a hearing officer designated by the police chief or fire chief," the organization charges. "This 10-day window fails to provide alarm companies with a meaningful opportunity to gather evidence in support of their appeals or to otherwise conduct a sufficient investigation into the circumstances causing the alarm activation."
The lawsuit argues that the ordinance is unconstitutional because it denies due process guaranteed by the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The ordinance also allows the city to suspend police response after four alarms in 24-months but to continue to levy fines. The lawsuit adds that "the decision-making process by Sandy Springs, coupled with the expedited appellate procedures, fail to provide adequate procedural safeguards against the unlawful and unconstitutional imposition of civil penalties against alarm companies."
"We appreciate SIAC offering its expertise and support in helping us in this important fight," said Gordon. "If this unconstitutional ordinance is allowed to stand, our industry will face this same type of issue from other communities who have the mistaken belief that fining alarm companies is an effective way to deal with alarm issues.
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For its part, the city of Sandy Springs says its ordinance was created in response to the industry’s "antiquated" business operations where a more than 98 percent false alarm rate is successful. No other business industry or entity would accept that "level of failure" as normal, the city said Wednesday.
These companies have a relationship with their customers and while they want to make money from that bond, they have turned the other cheek in informing and training said customers and managing their systems, resulting in the "ongoing abysmally high rates of false alarms," Sandy Springs adds.
"The city has tried for a number of years to work with the alarm industry to reduce the false alarm rate," it continued. "Rather than work towards a solution, the alarm industry blames its customers and accepts no responsibility for improving a very broken system."
Sandy Springs also blasted the company’s comparison of the Sandy Springs Police Department with its fictitious counterparts in Mayberry, as the businesses say some parts of the ordinance are a reminder of the "small town" justice portrayed on the ‘Andy Griffith Show.’
"When someone received a ticket from Sheriff Andy Taylor and asked to speak to the judge, Griffith would pull out another sign from his desk announcing he was also Justice of the Peace," the company added. "The appeals process for the actual Sandy Springs ordinance is just as troubling as Mayberry’s fictional justice system."
The city punched back, adding these same companies depend on Sandy Springs public safety personnel to achieve its business goals, yet have "the audacity to insult those same police officers."
"The Sandy Springs police force is an outstanding agency in the state’s sixth largest city," the city added. "This is no small town. We have an impressive success rate, despite the fact that our officers are forced to spend an inordinate amount of time responding to the gross negligence of the alarm industry, their inability to monitor themselves, and utilize modern best practices. It is public safety which bears the brunt of the inefficient system of the alarm industry."
Sandy Springs went on to say that it takes its responsibility to "ensure the safety of all of its citizens and its fiscal responsibility in managing taxpayer dollars seriously."
"We stand by the policy which simply holds alarm companies accountable in providing a level of service which includes accurate reporting and a reduction in false alarms," it said.
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