If you thought the battle over who can and cannot be held responsible for false alarms in Georgia was over then think again. A bill recently introduced in the Georgia General Assembly would bar local governments in the state from issuing fines to alarm companies for false alarms that occur through no fault of their own.
The introduction of the legislation comes on the heels of a more than three-year long legal battle between the City of Sandy Spring and the alarm industry over the city’s decision to pass an ordinance that holds alarm firms responsible for paying false alarm fines incurred by home and business owners. Last July, a federal appeals court upheld a ruling affirming the legality of the city’s ordinance.
The city’s legal victories have also paved the way for other municipalities in the state to implement similar legislation. Brookhaven, for example, initially adopted a Sandy Springs-like ordinance in late 2017 but didn’t begin enforcement until 2019. The city recently provided data to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution showing a more than 50% reduction in false alarms from 2015 to 2020.
“Ultimately what this ordinance has done is it has given alarm companies a real, tangible reason to make sure that their systems are in good working order,” Brookhaven Police Lt. David Snively told the AJC.
Meanwhile, the plaintiffs in the Sandy Springs case – Safecom Security Solutions, A-Com Security Company and the Georgia Electronic Life Safety & Systems Association (GELSSA) – filed yet another appeal last August.
In their petition, the plaintiffs claim that the city’s ordinance violates their right to due process under federal and state law because:
The city can impose punitive fines, as much as $500, on alarm companies without there being “responsible relation” between them and the conduct of their customers;
Alarm companies are not granted a “meaningful hearing” with the city before fines are imposed;
And, the appeals process for fines is “rife with procedural deficiencies” on the back end.
“This case raises an issue that potentially could impact numerous businesses,” Stan Martin, Executive Director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC), said in a statement issued at the time. “The ruling makes it far too easy for a government entity to hold a business responsible for the actions of its customers even if the business does not have a responsible relationship with the customer’s conduct.
“What is more significant to Sandy Springs taxpayers is that the city has embarked on expensive and needless litigation even though there has never been a showing that fining alarm companies is any more effective than fining alarm owners, which is the norm throughout the country,” Martin continued. “The city could have achieved its goal of reducing alarm responses without expensive litigation.”
The original challenge to the law was dismissed by a lower federal court in 2018.