The Georgia General Assembly has passed a bill banning cities from fining security alarm companies for false alarms, which could overturn controversial local laws in Brookhaven and Sandy Springs. 

HB 465 prevents cities or counties from imposing fines on alarm companies when a customer triggers a false alarm. In 2017, Sandy Springs introduced a law putting alarm companies on the hook for false alarms instead of alarm users. Brookhaven quickly followed suit later that year.

False alarms happen when an automatic system contacts the police about an emergency which then turns out to be non-existent. Both the Sandy Springs and Brookhaven laws were introduced with the intention of lowering the number of false alarms. But security companies say the policies do not help. Alarm companies sued Sandy Springs over the ordinance in 2018, but a federal court dismissed the suit later that year. 

“The concept of fining a company for a problem caused by its customers is the equivalent of sending someone’s speeding ticket to Ford and sets a precedent that could be a threat to many industries,” said John Loud, vice president of Electronic Security Association (ESA) and president of LOUD Security Systems, in a press release. 

Under the new state law, alarm users rather than security companies would be fined for false alarms. The Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police (GACP) endorsed the “model alarm ordinance”  in 2019. 

“The model ordinance, which fines alarm users, obtains an average 60% reduction in false dispatches and impacts those causing most of the problems,” said Stan Martin, executive director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC) in a press release. “In fact, 85% of alarm systems generate no calls to the police in any given year.” The SIAC was one of the groups that sued Sandy Springs. 

Sandy Springs used the model alarm ordinance until 2017, and has previously stated it saw little improvement in false alarms during that time. The Sandy Springs Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for updated numbers. However, in 2012, Sandy Springs reported about 12,000 false alarms per year. Over the next five years, that number declined to about 10,000 per year.

According to a Brookhaven Police Department spokesperson, the percentage of alarm calls that turn out to be false has remained relatively consistent since 2015, hovering between 92% and 95%. However, the number of false alarm calls have decreased from 3,949 in 2015 to 1,798 in 2020.

“The ultimate goal of any false alarm ordinance is to provide an incentive to alarm companies to ensure their equipment is properly installed and remains in good working order, and to ensure that users are educated on the proper use of their alarms,” said BPD spokesperson Lt. David Snively. “Because more than 90% of total alarms received by BPD prove to be false, there is a need for this type of ordinance.”

The new law would still hold alarm companies responsible for false alarms caused by faulty equipment, incorrect installation, or failure to use a mandated system requiring two calls to an alarm site before calling the police, according to a press release. 

While the bill passed the General Assembly, Kemp has yet to sign. 

“It is our sincere hope that the governor will realize that this legislation exacerbates the waste of  police patrol hours caused by alarm companies abusing the 911 system,” said Brookhaven spokesperson Burke Brennan in an email. “Clearly, the profits of alarm companies are more important to the Georgia General Assembly than protecting local police department budgets.  If signed into law, we will continue to look for ways to hold alarm companies accountable in order to allow our police to focus on fighting crime instead of false alarms.” 

In an emailed statement, Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul said the city will review the new legislation to gauge its impact on the Sandy Springs ordinance.

“If the governor signs it, we will adjust our policy,” he said. “But since our alarm calls still hover around 100% false, we will continue to require true verification of criminal activity before we dispatch law enforcement.” 

Sammie Purcell is Associate Editor at Rough Draft Atlanta.