Round two: Spartanburg gets it right

Officials, industry work together to reduce false dispatches
Thursday, July 8, 2010

SPARTANBURG, S.C.—County officials here are sure they’ve got it right this time. Following up on a story originally reported by Security Systems News in December of last year, the Spartanburg County Council has approved and enacted what it feels is a fair, effective, and non-constitution-violating, false alarm ordinance, effective July 1.

At the time of the first SSN story on Spartanburg’s ordinance woes, County Councilman David Britt said the county definitely needed an ordinance but couldn’t have something that violated people’s rights. “We knew that we had to do something because it was costing us so much money. We wrote an ordinance that we thought would address the problem,” Britt said. “But once it was put in place I started getting immediate response from my constituents—very able business people—saying ‘What’s going on?’ There was a provision that basically said any county official could come on your property to inspect your alarm.”

The problem needed to be solved and retired police chief and SIAC law enforcement liaison Glen Mowrey—having read the SSN article—reached out to the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office. Mowrey began working with Sheriff Chuck Wright to wrangle the ordinance into line. “Some sheriffs, they’re hesitant to do what they have to because, you see, people vote for them. Not Chuck,” Mowrey said. “He said, ‘I’ve got a responsibility to be a good steward of the taxpayers’ money. This is not good stewardship.’”

Sheriff Wright said the help from SIAC was welcome and the cooperation led to a mutually satisfying solution. “Glen came to me and made an appointment. Now the first thing we noticed in our first reading of that first ordinance was that it had a lot of ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ in it and it sounded like big government, so Glen offered me this model ordinance and he said, ‘You can tailor this to be whatever you want it to be,’” Wright said. “So I assembled a team together made from someone from administration over at the County Council, somebody from dispatch, me and the chief and we all sat down and went over this ordinance … There’s no hidden fees in this now, which I like. My point and my goal is that this is just about stopping false alarms. It worked out very well.”

The new ordinance, based upon the SIAC model ordinance, has a standard fine schedule. The first two false alarms in a calendar year are free. The third, fourth and fifth false alarms at an address in one year lead to a $50 fine. It’s $100 for the sixth and seventh, $250 for the eighth and ninth, and $500 for the 10th and up. Schools, churches and other municipal buildings are not excluded from the ordinance and there is no fee associated with registering a system.

In a time when municipalities are slashing budgets, Wright said it was important for everyone to do their part to save money and resources. “I serve the community and I want to respond to alarms and there’s a need, but our whole point is that people need to make an effort. Everybody should be doing their part to save money instead of spending like a bunch of drunken sailors,” Wright said. “When I have to spend, I have to spend, but when I don’t have to, I should be looking around for where I can save. The money that’s provided to me through the budget is not my money, it’s the people’s money.”