Flint billing security companies for false alarms

SIAC urges Michigan city to shift fees to customers
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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

FLINT, Mich.—A decision by the city to begin billing security companies for false alarms—more than $31,000 in the first month alone—has the industry working with police to shift the burden to end users.

The ordinance establishing the fees for alarm contractors was approved in 2009 in an effort to reduce false alarms and recoup the cost of unnecessary dispatches. The provision wasn’t enforced, but with Flint’s finances worsening and its police and fire departments cut, the city started sending out bills in July.

That got the attention of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition, which lobbied against the ordinance three years ago. Glen Mowrey, law enforcement liaison for SIAC, said the group questions the legality of the fees and has been urging Flint to change its policy.

“Some [cities] have tried it before,” Mowrey told Security Systems News. “There are several in California that got involved in legal action and the courts all upheld that you need to bill the end user, not the alarm company. [Flint] probably set it up not knowing the consequences and not realizing that it’s not going to help reduce alarm calls.”

According to the ordinance, no fees are assessed for the first two false alarms at a given location in any one-year period. The third false alarm is $75, with the fee rising $25 for each subsequent incident. A $35 late fee is added to any bill not paid within 30 days.

Mowrey said he has held discussions with Flint police officials about adopting SIAC’s model ordinance and billing customers instead of alarm companies. SIAC and the Burglar and Fire Alarm Association of Michigan also will be meeting with city councilors on the issue next month, he said.

“It’s a work in progress,” Mowrey said. “We’re going to try to work on their whole alarm program.”

With SIAC’s model ordinance, “the end user has 30 days to pay the fine, and if they don’t pay the fine, there’s no police response—period,” Mowrey said. “That’s the only way you’re going to reduce calls. Those are the things we’re going to be working through.”

As a retired deputy police chief, Mowrey said he can sympathize with Flint’s police officers as they try to do their duty amid the city’s financial upheaval. He said the department has been trimmed from 500 officers to just over 100, making the need to reduce false alarms that much greater.

“Flint is really down—[the police] have had significant cuts,” he said. “I don’t even know how they function. I spent 36 years in law enforcement, and they’ve got a real task ahead of them.”