City of Chico Votes to Fine Alarm Companies for False Alarms

Industry Contemplates Legal Challenge to Unconstitutional Ordinance

By David Margulies. This article will appear in upcoming issues of CAA Mirror and CSAA Dispatch.

Despite learning that provisions of a similar ordinance was ruled unconstitutional, the Chico city council voted unanimously to begin fining alarm companies for false alarms. The vote came after the council ordered the police department to end the unpopular verified response policy it had put in place. Leaders in the security industry are already meeting with attorneys in anticipation of challenging the new ordinance in court.

“This type of ordinance makes it more difficult for our industry and public safety officials to deal effectively with false alarms,” said Jay Hauhn, president of the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) International. “In making alarm companies responsible for their customers’ conduct, the city creates a more bureaucratic and complex system that slows the entire process and adds cost and complexity. More importantly, Chico’s new ordinance will do nothing to stem incidents of false alarm activations. There is a reason that virtually all alarm ordinances in the U.S. call for fining alarm users if they are the ones causing the problem.” The industry supports fines for alarm companies when false alarms are due to their specific actions.

The council was well aware that a similar ordinance passed in Fontana, California was overturned in court when it was challenged by the alarm industry. In that case, Fontana wound up paying its own legal fees as well as approximately $350,000 in legal fees incurred by the alarm industry.

“It is difficult to understand why Chico city officials would put taxpayer funds at risk by passing an ordinance similar to one that has been overturned in court in another California city,” said Hauhn. “While the Fontana case did not set a legal precedent because it was not appealed; it certainly showed how a fair minded court would interpret the issue. With no controversy or threat of litigation, the city could have implemented an ordinance patterned after the model ordinance, which provides for reasonable user permit fees and assesses an appropriate escalating fine structure against the alarm users who cause false alarms and achieved the same, or better, results in terms of both cost recovery and reducing false alarms.”

The discussion at the city council meeting was basically a philosophical difference between the police department’s view that the alarm industry is responsible for dealing with false alarms and the reality that most false alarms are caused by user error. The police offered no evidence that their proposal would be any more effective in reducing false alarms than fining alarm users.

“The police and council clearly do not understand why the process they propose is more cumbersome, slower and potentially less effective than the best practices utilized throughout the United States,” said Hauhn.  “Hopefully city officials will recognize, as they did with verified response, that some ideas that look good on paper are impractical or have unintended negative consequences.”

Industry leaders are seeking support from members of the industry for this legal challenge in order to head off other cities from taking this unfortunate and illogical path.

Contributions can be made to:
C.A.A. ~ Chico Legal Fund
333 Washington Blvd. # 433
Marina Del Rey, CA 90292
Phone: 800/437-7658

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