Flint stops billing security companies for false alarms

Industry groups seek long-term resolution; city puts talks on hold
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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

FLINT, Mich.—The city of Flint has stopped billing security companies for false alarms, but the future of the policy remains uncertain as industry representatives await the next move by city officials.

The ordinance establishing the fees was approved in the late 1990s in an effort to reduce false alarms and recoup the cost of unnecessary dispatches. It wasn’t enforced until last summer, when the cash-strapped city starting sending invoices to alarm companies.

From August to December, Flint sent 1,600 invoices totaling nearly $134,000 to security companies operating in the city. The Burglar and Fire Alarm Association of Michigan and the Security Industry Alarm Coalition challenged the policy and entered into talks with the city to resolve the dispute.

“Some [cities] have tried it before,” Glen Mowrey, law enforcement liaison for SIAC, told Security Systems News in December. “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.”

Karen Majeske, director of the BFAAM, told SSN this week that the city has complied with the industry’s request and has stopped sending false-alarm invoices to companies. Further talks on the issue—including the status of fees already assessed—have been delayed.

“Glen Mowrey and I were attempting to set a meeting in mid-February but were told by the assistant city attorney that the city is dealing with other issues at the moment and they will contact us at a later date,” said Majeske, who is general manager of Southfield, Mich.-based Guardian Alarm. “We have had no contact since.”

City Attorney Peter Bade did not return calls for comment on Flint’s alarm policy or when it might resume talks.

SIAC has proposed that Flint adopt the group’s model ordinance, which includes enhanced call verification and the billing of customers for false alarms. If a customer doesn’t pay the fee within 30 days, there is no police response for subsequent alarms.

Under the provisions of 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.

Alarm companies that have received bills have refused to pay them, Majeske said.