Chicago moves to zero tolerance on false alarms

Sunday, February 1, 2009

CHICAGO—Effective January 1, 2009, the city of Chicago’s False Burglar Alarm program underwent some drastic changes. According to the city’s Web site, there will be no more freebies. The old ordinance used to allow commercial burglar alarm users three false alarms per calendar year. A hearing date and time will now automatically be scheduled when a false alarm is logged and a citation is issued. Businesses will be allowed seven days from the issuance of a false alarm citation to pay the $100 fine to avoid the mandatory hearing appearance.

Chuck Mishoulam, owner/president of Chicago-based Alert Protective Services, Inc., said the changes are not only sudden, but extreme. “It’s pretty radical … We’re all a bit taken aback by it,” Mishoulam said. “It’s a big deal. People make mistakes, and come in and can create a false alarm—an employee, an owner, or whatever the case might be—and I think having the three free passes before was just a better way to do business … You know there’s a human factor involved here. It’s not just an equipment thing … so people have to have the ability to have some wiggle room to make a mistake. So the three free ones gave people enough warning to know, ‘I’ve only got three of these things, so I should be careful.’ But you hit somebody with a $100 fine and an administrative hearing and that all takes time for people.”

Security Industry Alarm Coalition executive director Stan Martin said that while the suddenness of the change was surprising, the excessiveness was not ground breaking. “It really is a matter of how the businesses react. They sure didn’t, to my knowledge, contact anyone in the alarm industry. A little communication would have been good for everyone. It surely could have been handled better … It’s not unprecedented, though. L.A. doesn’t give freebies.”

Chicago department of revenue deputy director Linda Consola said that the change was part of the city’s new budget and has been a matter of public record since November, 2008. “It was a small part of a large number of changes that we made during the budget,” Consola said. “The media had access to that and they focused on what they chose to focus on. Such issues as [automobile] booting and so forth.”

Consola said it was important to let alarm users know that a properly maintained alarm system will help them avoid future fines. “The ordinance also added new affirmative defenses. Because we feel it’s important that business owners properly maintain their alarm systems and use licensed alarm contractors and have their alarms inspected annually … If they can show that they used a licensed alarm contractor, and if they have proof that it was inspected within the last 12 months, that’s a defense … They always have the opportunity to dispute.”

Mishoulam said it is the alarm industry that will unfortunately pay in the long run by bearing the brunt of end user frustration. “The reverberations back to the alarm industry are going to be big in the fact that people are going to get angry at us,” Mishoulam said. “I’m sure we’ll have some angry customers for a while, but what can we do? I guess it would have been nice to talk about this before it was enforced.”

Consola maintains that the changes are positive. “I haven’t received any feedback yet. We view it as an enhancement to the program,” Consola said. “There’s no longer a permit needed. Commercial users previously had to have a permit. So the permit requirement has been eliminated, which also eliminates the fine for not having a permit as a violation that the police issue. Although each ticket is now $100, we will no longer double it after the sixth ticket.”