Unpaid false alarm fines could lead to loss of utilities

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

CORDELE, Ga.--City commissioners here voted last week to adopt a new ordinance that will tie false alarm fines to end users' public utilities, including water, sewage, gas and garbage collection. The unique move stems from concerns that false alarms generated by alarm systems in city residences and businesses often lead to a misallocation of police manpower.
Cordele chief of police Dwayne Orrick said the new fining system is an attempt to recoup the city's loss of manpower resources through an already existing system of forced compliance. "At the end of the month we review the incident locations and then we pass the address on of those locations that exceeded the amount of alarms that we allow, and the number of incidences that they had there," Orrick said. "Then the finance department adds that to the utility bill, which covers water, sewage, gas and garbage. And so if they don't pay the utility bill, there's already a process in place for having the utilities discontinued."
Once the ordinance takes effect on Jan. 1, 2009, alarm users will be allowed five false alarms for the year. Any false alarms past five will result in the user being charged a fine. The sixth and seventh false alarms will carry a $50 fine each. False alarms eight, nine and 10 will result in a $100 fine for each. Alarm users will be fined $250 each for the 11th and 12th false alarm, and a $500 fine will follow 13 or more false alarms.
Cordele city commissioner chairman Zack Wade said the system of fine payment enforcement is not designed to hurt anyone, but to fight a serious problem. "We have a bad problem with that. It's taking a lot of manpower away from our police," Wade said. "We don't feel like these are criminal, but it's something that's really a nuisance. Hopefully there won't be many of these. Hopefully they will be corrected. [But] an alternative would be to cut all the services off that's not paid ... Hopefully we won't have to do that to anybody."
The ordinance extends to churches and schools as well as residences and businesses. Alarms installed on motor vehicles, fire alarms, domestic violence alarm, or alarms designed to elicit a medical response are not covered by the ordinance. Users will be required to fill out an application and register their alarm systems through the Cordele Police Department and pay a registration fee of $10. Anyone failing to register an alarm system will be fined $100.
Orrick asserts that end users have plenty of opportunity to make sure they are not assessed fines. "We do have some other checks and balances in there as well," he said. "We have a secondary notification requirement in there before they notify the 911 center to dispatch an officer ... And if you have a repeat alarm--four or five times in a couple days--then you say, 'Look I'm having a problem with the alarm system don't send any body, and I'll notify the alarm company and have it serviced.' So it gives them the opportunity to use a little judgment, too, as long as we have a current number."