Spartanburg County axes constitutional-right violating ordinance

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

SPARTANBURG, S.C.—In a time when most municipalities are looking to save money and crack down on wasteful false alarms, the Spartanburg County Council on Dec. 21 took the unusual step of rescinding its recently enacted false alarm ordinance. According to county officials the move is the result of the potential for civil rights violations in the original ordinance, which was to go into effect Jan. 1.

“We had an ordinance in place, but were told that it had no teeth … We knew that we had to do something because it was costing us so much money,” Spartanburg County Councilor David Britt said. “We wrote an ordinance that we thought would address the problem … 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. It was just an egregious error. It’s unconstitutional. I don’t want anyone coming on my property without just cause.”

Britt said the ordinance was partially modeled on the City of Spartanburg’s ordinance and was written without direct industry input.

Security Industry Alarm Coalition director Ron Walters said the alarm industry’s associations were there to help. “We have not heard from him yet but we have reached out to the Sheriff through [SIAC law enforcement liaison] Glen [Mowrey],” Walters said in an email interview. “Glen knows him as well as all of the officials in Spartanburg City where we have a long running and successful ordinance.”

Britt said the original plan was to put the ordinance on hold while the wrinkles were ironed out, but the County Council learned that wouldn’t be an option. “I just wanted a system that if people were having false alarms it would be ‘all right if you don’t get it fixed then you’re going to pay the consequences,” Britt said. “We were going to rewrite it—I said ‘Let’s put a 90-day hold on this so we can rework it,’ and the Sheriff agreed—but the attorney told us we couldn’t just put it on hold. So we had to rescind it—make it null and void, which we did. It’s dead now.”

Calls to the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s office were not returned by press time.

Britt said there were no calls from the industry in response to the proposed ordinance as its planned Jan. 1 launch date approached, but that Spartanburg was interested in industry input. “I would welcome industry input. I’d love that,” Britt said.

Security Systems News continues to report on this story.