Fontana's ordinance violated due process. Municipality settles with industry. Trend-setting?

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09/20/2010

So the news isn't actually all that newsy... The judgment that the city of Fontana, Calif.'s 2008 ordinance was at least in part  unconstitutional was reached by the San Bernardino Superior Court in March 2010. Both sides in this ongoing battle (Fontana and the Inland Empire Alarm Association) appealed that ruling, initially.

However, a settlement has now been reached, according to published reports. (The San Bernardino Sun), and SSN wants to bring you the inside scoop on what this settlement means for the industry.

In a sign that the legal proceedings of the last two years may have taken their toll on everyone and convinced them that working together is much better than litigating at one another, the parties released a joint press release on Sept. 6.

Here's some of that release:

City of Fontana and Alarm Industry Reach Agreement on Alarm Management

Settlement Preserves Both Public Funds and Verified Police Response to Electronic Security Systems

FONTANA, Calif. – Sept. 6, 2010— The City of Fontana and the alarm industry, through the Inland Empire Alarm Association (IEAA), have reached an agreement to resolve their dispute over the City of Fontana’s 2008 alarm ordinance.  The agreement ends on-going litigation and allows both sides to move forward cooperatively to serve and protect the residents and business of Fontana.

The 2008 ordinance provided that the Fontana Police Department would not respond to burglar alarm notification calls from alarm companies unless there was some audio, video, or eyewitness verification that an actual break-in was about to or had occurred. If alarm companies inappropriately notified police of an alarm call without such verification, a fine was imposed on the alarm company. Some of the key provisions of the 2008 ordinance were found to be unconstitutional by the San Bernardino Superior Court in March 2010, while the Court affirmed the validity of other portions.  Both sides had appealed that ruling.

In the spirit of compromise, the parties mutually and amicably agreed to dismiss their appeals and instead agree on terms of a new alarm ordinance to replace the disputed 2008 ordinance.  The new alarm ordinance maintains verified response to burglar alarms while eliminating the provisions of the 2008 ordinance that the alarm industry contended were unlawful. It envisions a continuing cooperative relationship between the Police Department and the alarm companies to adjust the verification requirement for burglar alarms as alarm technology improves so alarm companies can continue to serve their customers and police can continue to improve their level of service to the people of Fontana.  IEAA has agreed that the terms of the settlement adequately satisfy Fontana’s obligations under the Superior Court’s March decision to forgo any refund of the fine money collected by the City of Fontana under the ordinance.

President of IEAA, Morgan Hertel says electronic security companies will also work with law enforcement on appropriate alarm response to reduce false alarms and to help conserve limited police resources.

So it sounds like both sides are giving a little and everyone's allowed to walk away with a little dignity. I actualy began writing a story about this turn of events last week, when I picked up the story in the San Bernardino Sun. That story should move on our wire soon, once our legal sources have a chance to look at the larger legal ramifications for the security industry.

Even though the two sides have come to an agreement and are working together, there have been compromises.

The new alarm ordinance maintains the verified response requirement, which the Fontana Police Department believes reduces incidents of false dispatch of police. It continues to provide for fines against alarm companies for requesting police dispatch without first verifying an actual emergency exists and will also impose fines on alarm companies for misrepresenting that verification took place.

I've been blogging a lot about verification lately. I think it's going to continue to be a pretty heavy topic going forward.

CAA past president and law enforcement liaison for SIAC Jon Sargent said other state alarm associations may begin combing through their ordinances. “It’s a pretty remarkable thing to have in writing that the ordinance here was unconstitutional and violated due process,” Sargent said. “I would think this is going to shake up everything.”

Sargent also said that the actual amount of money the city has spent on the legal battle with the Inland Empire Alarm Association is actually much more than this most recent settlement. “We’ve been through two lawsuits with them. We started back in August of 2007. That was after they put a very restrictive verified response police in place. So far they’ve had to pay more than $357,000 in lawyers’ fees to the association. That doesn’t include their own legal expenses. The first lawsuit in 2008, they paid over $184,000. And now there’s the $173,000,” Sargent said

Stay tuned to SSN for continuing coverage of this story, including interviews with representatives from SIAC, the IEAA and attorneys from Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp, the law firm that's been working with the industry in this matter.