Atlanta revamps alarm ordinance to fill budget hole

Thursday, January 1, 2009
ATLANTA--Atlanta's City Council hopes to collect $3 million from people who have multiple false alarms at their homes or businesses. The 15-person council voted unanimously Jan. 22 on a proposal that increases fines and simplifies the penalty process regarding fire and burglar alarms.
Georgia Electronic Life Safety & Systems Association president Mike Latty, who is also a board member of the NBFAA, a member of the CSAA and a member of the Georgia Police Chiefs Association, said Atlanta has "had an ordinance in place for years and years, but they haven't been administering it."
In fact, Atlanta has not collected any fine revenue since 2005. According to the new ordinance proposal by Councilmember Anne Fauver, Atlanta had $4.4 million in issued, but uncollected, false alarm fines in 2002. From 2000-2004 Atlanta saw revenues of only $1.5 million in collected fines. The reason for the drop off in collected fines? Fauver claims the ordinance was too difficult to enforce and that police stopped giving citations. Fauver believes the new ordinance will correct past problems and prove a boon to the city.
"People will perhaps pay more attention to how they operate their systems," Fauver said. "Or if the system is not in good repair, they'll get it in good repair, which will free up--I mean if 93 percent of our calls are false alarms--that frees up an incredible amount of resources for police and fire. And obviously in this budget we need to free up as many resources as we can."
Latty disagreed: "I've looked at their current ordinance. It's very harsh, to be honest with you. It's out of desperation. The city of Atlanta is trying to find money any way they can find it. And I think they're going to be jeopardizing the public safety and the life safety of some of the people that live in Atlanta," Latty said. "The fines that they have structured are very unfortunate. Most jurisdictions have a much better program in place. They have some fines but they're not that extreme. I just wish they had worked with us ... Had they worked with us, we would have let them know what has worked best with a lot of other jurisdictions."
The Atlanta Police Department is on record as supporting the legislation.
The ordinance gives a free pass for the first false alarm, but after that, penalties escalate from $100 for the second false alarm to $1,000 for any false alarms over six in a calendar year. Under the ordinance, citations would be enforced like traffic tickets through the city's municipal court, and would allow for appeals. The legislation will go into effect upon approval by the mayor.