August 2013 - Posts
An ordinance that the City of Prescott, AZ, adopted two years ago in an attempt to reduce the time that police officers spend responding to false alarms continues to be refined by the City Council.
In July 2011, the city implemented an ordinance that imposed fines for owners of security alarm systems after two false-alarm warnings.
When the police department initially took the issue to the council in 2010, it reported that officers were responding to nearly 3,000 false alarms per year, resulting in hundreds of hours a year in time spent on non-emergency situations.
The council ultimately approved an ordinance that imposed fines in $100 increments after two false-alarm warnings.
Since then, the number of false alarms in the city has dropped by about 30 percent, Deputy Police Chief Andy Reinhardt told the City Council this week.
Last week, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling upholding a previous injunction against the Lisle-Woodridge Fire Protection District which prohibits them from enforcing an ordinance that required fire alarm signals to be transmitted to a system run by the district rather than privately-run central stations.
In September 2009, the district, which consists of the suburban Chicago towns of Lisle and Woodridge, passed an ordinance requiring all commercial fire alarm system owners in the area to terminate their existing monitoring contracts and switch to a system owned and operated by the district. The following summer, five private alarm companies including ADT, Alarm Detection Systems, D.M.C. Security Services, Illinois Alarm Services and SMG Security Systems, filed a lawsuit against the district alleging violations of state laws, as well as federal antitrust laws.
In the 50-page opinion released last week, the court found that not only did the ordinance violate boundaries established by the Illinois Fire Protection District Act, but that the district’s system was not on par with that of private companies. “Moreover, the facts have revealed that the district’s system is less reliable and more dangerous than the private alarm companies’ systems, does not comply with NFPA standards, and interferes with the plaintiffs’ ability to serve their customers,” the ruling stated.
Surprise, AZ, will soon add some teeth to its false alarm ordinance.
That much is clear after Police Chief Michael Frazier and Lt. Harold Brady, attorney for the Surprise Police Department, presented parameters for a tougher ordinance during Tuesday’s City Council work session. The next few months will determine what circumstances will trigger a fine for multiple false alarms.
Tuesday, the council approved the basic fee structure. After one or two warnings, the homeowner or business will be fined $150. The next violation will cost $200 and all subsequent false alarms would be $250.
Buffalo Grove, IL, is looking at increasing some of the village's fees and false-alarm fines.
Over the summer, the village surveyed 15 nearby communities, including Arlington Heights, Mount Prospect, Wheeling and Elk Grove Village, to determine how the village compares.
Among the fees that were discussed by the village board at last week's committee of the whole meeting were false alarm fees, which are intended to encourage property owners to test, maintain and fix their alarm systems to prevent unnecessary emergency calls.
Currently, the fines begin at $75 for the third false alarm, escalating to $200 for the 13th one. Under the proposed fine structure, it would be $75 for the second one, $125 for the third, $175 for the fourth, $200 for the fifth through ninth and $250 for 10 and more.
Deputy Village Manager Jennifer Maltas said the change will target the majority of the repeat offenders — those with between two and four false alarms.
Maltas said the village also could be charging for a commercial solicitor permit. The village currently does not charge for solicitor permits. There are two types of permits that are issued — for-profit and not-for-profit. By federal law, the village cannot charge for not-for-profit permits.
In addition to the staff time associated with processing the permit in the Finance Department, the Police Department completes a background check for each person who will be soliciting. For that reason, staff is recommending a general permit fee of $50 (which includes one solicitor and background check) with a $15 fee for each additional person that is added to the permit in order to cover costs of the background check.
A federal judge properly kept an Illinois fire district from replacing the private market in commercial alarm systems with a less safe monopoly system, the 7th Circuit ruled.
In 2009, the Lisle-Woodridge Fire Protection District passed an ordinance under which it took over all fire-alarm monitoring for businesses in the district, shutting down the private market "by substituting for it a less safe and less reliable system operated by just one chosen vendor," DuPage Public Safety Communications or Du-Comm, according to the ruling.
Five private fire alarm companies, led by ADT Security Services, claimed that the ordinance overstepped the district's powers and created an illegal monopoly.
U.S. District Judge Milton Shadur granted the companies partial summary judgment and permanently enjoined the ordinance in 2011, but the 7th Circuit partially reversed in its first brush with the case last year. That February 2012 ruling invalidated only the ordinance's monopoly clause.
The District Court then held a four-day evidentiary hearing and issued a revised permanent injunction, which the federal appeals court upheld Wednesday.
"We find that the major elements of the injunction - shutting down the District's Station 3 and permitting private Central Stations to receive and transmit alarm signals - were well within the district court's discretion," Judge David Hamilton wrote for a three-judge panel. "Commercial properties in the district must have some form of fire alarm monitoring, but the district's plans and requirements for such services are beyond the district's legal authority, so it was appropriate for the district court to require the district to permit private alarm companies to provide that essential service."
In addition, the lengthy evidentiary hearing discovered that the District's alarm system is "less reliable and more dangerous than the private alarm companies' systems," the 50-page opinion states.
"Testimony at the hearing revealed much higher out-of service rates with the district's monitoring," Hamilton added. "Bonifas testified that he analyzed hundreds of pages of unrestored signals and out-of-service reports from Du-Comm. He found that once the district's system became operational, over 12 percent of accounts were out of service at any point in time."
Witnesses also testified that Station 3 does not meet Code standards, leaving the private central stations as the only safe means of transmitting alarm systems.
"The injunction is forceful, but given the district's and Chicago Metro's history of recalcitrance throughout this litigation, the District Court was justified in taking strong measures," Hamilton concluded.
On Aug 13, 2013, the Whittier City Council is expected to give final approval to tougher laws on false burglar alarms. Tentative approval took place July 23 with votes of 4-0.
In a written report to the council, Police Chief Jeff Piper said the city's current false alarm law was approved in 1986 and is outdated. He said his department worked with the California Alarm Association to update the city code concerning modern technicalities of burglar alarms.
Most of the false alarms the city responds to were caused by improperly installed equipment, poorly maintained systems and human error.
Piper said the new ordinance requires city permits for the installation of burglar alarms, instructions on how to notify police and update information on a facility, a system of revoking permits for ordinance violations and an appeals process for revocations.
It includes specific duties of alarm users and for the alarm company and sets higher fines for violations.
“Responding to an excessive number of false alarm calls places an undue burden on the city’s police resources and affects emergency response to more serious calls,” Piper said.
A Las Cruces, NM, ordinance regulating alarm systems for homes and commercial businesses went into effect in January, and the enforcement of fines began on August 1, 2013.
For months, city police and fire department officials had been trying to develop a new ordinance that creates notably stricter penalties for chronic false alarm reports.
"A significant portion of our limited resources are wasted responding to false alarms," said Las Cruces Police Department Lt. Kevin Renn. "This new ordinance is designed to reduce the number of false alarms."
However, the total number of alarm calls last year dropped 9 percent from 2011 after the Mesilla Valley Regional Dispatch Authority implemented new procedures requiring two calls — to property owners and to alarm companies — to verify the legitimacy of an alarm.
"That's an indication that the direction we'll be going to will be effective," Renn told the council on Jan. 22. The two-call verification method will continue to be used with the new ordinance.
Alarms that send Conneaut police and firefighters on wild goose chases could have financial consequences if a new law before City Council is enacted, officials say.
On the table is a measure that would assess fines for excessive, non-emergency alarms. The measure, pushed to a second reading, should resurface at council’s Aug. 12 regular meeting. Down the road is a companion measure that would set penalties for multiple complaints, such as loud music, originating from the same address.
Safety personnel who rush to alarms that are accidentally triggered put people at risk, waste fuel and cause unnecessary wear and tear to vehicles,city officials have said. The measure before council would forgive the first two accidental alarms, said Ward 4 Councilman Thomas Kozesky, public safety committee chairman. A third false alarm within a year’s time would carry a $50 penalty, then climb to $75 for the fourth offense and $125 for subsequent offenses, he said.
Exempt from the alarm count would be activations caused by storms and other so-called “acts of God,” Kozesky said.
The Georgia cities of Atlanta, Sandy Springs and Dunwoody are rolling out alarm registration programs as part of recently adopted false alarm ordinances.
Atlanta officials sent a press release on July 29 reminding people to register their alarms as part of the new ordinance, which takes effect Sept. 15. At a recent Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods meeting, Deputy Chief Operating Officer Hans Utz said the north Atlanta community generates many of the city’s false alarm reports.
There is a $150 fee for Atlanta residents that fail to register. The deadline for Atlanta is Feb. 1, 2014.
Sandy Springs and Dunwoody will soon make formal announcements about alarm registration, Sandy Springs spokeswoman Sharon Kraun said.
Dunwoody Police Chief Billy Grogan said the concern about false alarms isn’t new.
“The Atlanta, Sandy Springs, Dunwoody and Johns Creek ordinances have not gone into effect yet,” Grogan said. “I do believe they will make a significant impact on our false alarm calls and I believe we will see a reduction in these types of calls. The issue of false alarms has not suddenly become a concern. It has been a concern for some time. However, it takes time to enact an ordinance such as this.”