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The dust settles over Fontana

The dust settles over Fontana Eric Griffin, Jon Sargent, Morgan Hertel weigh in on effects of legal battle

FONTANA, Calif.—Industry experts say there are important lessons to take away from the settlement announced Sept. 6 between Fontana, Calif., “the city with the toughest false alarm ordinance in the country,” and the Inland Empire Alarm Association.

Eric Griffin, Jon Sargent and Morgan Hertel identified three lessons in particular for the security industry: Enhanced Call Verification is here to stay; expect closer scrutiny of alarm ordinances nationwide; and industry/municipality cooperation is the best policy.

Fontana agreed to make amends to the security industry through a new ordinance, and payment of legal expenses totaling $173,284 concluding round two of a two-year-long court battle. The San Bernardino Superior Court in March 2010 found some of the key provisions of the city's 2008 ordinance unconstitutional, and the parties involved have since been sitting around the negotiating table, hammering out the settlement and a new working relationship.

Security industry attorney and consultant Eric Griffin, formerly with Protection One, worked on the litigation on behalf of the IEAA, of which Protection One was a part. “We just need to swallow hard and realize that the enhanced verification demands municipalities are imposing are here to stay. Yes, we do have to make sure they're fair, but it has to be a cooperative thing,” Griffin said. “The salient issue is where the industry as a whole decides to go with this. We're a very fragmented industry.”

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.”

“There's a couple things of key interest to the industry that came out of this. In Fontana's ordinance, the industry was receiving the fines for false alarms. And that's been one of our bones of contention. That's now gone back to the end user where it belongs, and that's a good thing from a precedent standpoint,” said IEAA president Morgan Hertel who is director of operations at Mace CSSS. “The other thing that came out of this is that the new chief that's here, he's a pretty pragmatic guy, and he's been good about sitting down with us and working with us. It's turned from a very vengeful relationship to a very healthy working relationship.”

Sargent also said that the actual amount of money the city has spent on the legal battle with the IEAA is 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. “The message I really want to convey is that it's so much better when we all just sit down at a table and get to what we all need … We can reduce false dispatch by as much as 70 or 80 percent. We've shown that time and again. Let's go back to what has worked in other municipalities.”

The IEAA has contended that the fines in question—levied since 2008 under the assumption that the associated dispatches were false—were unjust since there was no way to prove an emergency situation did not exist when the alarm was originally tripped and dispatched. Police had made a policy of fining for a false alarm if no hard proof of a crime existed when responding officers arrived.

Fontana adopted its fine structure and verified response policy in 2008. While published reports claim the initiative cut the city's false alarm problem by as much as 78 percent, the city's ordinance is now under review and due for revision in the coming weeks. This final settlement and the cooperative working relationship between municipality and industry was announced in a joint press release Sept. 6.

City officials were hopeful of a fruitful working relationship going forward. “The new ordinance will allow the police department to deploy our officers in the best manner possible, including responding to burglar alarms verified by the alarm companies,” FPD Chief Rodney Jones said in the joint release. “We are glad to put the litigation behind us and intend to work cooperatively with the alarm companies to reduce time spent responding to false alarms to better protect and serve the people of Fontana.”


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