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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Oct. 4, 201612:00 PM EST

False security alarm calls may cost Jacksonville residents

by: David Chapman

Jacksonville has about 183,000 security systems.

They were busy last year, with 45,000 alarms going off requiring police officers to spend about 36,000 hours responding.

Yet, nearly all — in excess of 98 percent — turned out to be false alarms.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is leaning on the City Council for help on the matter.

On Monday, the last of three council committees approved an overhaul to regulations on security systems, a move that would impose stiffer fines and less leniency for what’s become a nuisance issue for law enforcement.

Under the proposed regulations, residential and commercial users would be required to register systems annually with the sheriff’s office for $10 or potentially have law enforcement call-outs ceased.

There is no cost if renewed within 30 days before or after an annual renewal date.

The laws also change the scope and price for users who have false alarms. Under the proposal, security system users would be allowed two false alarm call-outs.

On the third, it would be a $50 fine. On the fourth, $100. The fifth, $250. The sixth, $500. And beyond that, police would stop responding unless it was a distress or panic alert.

That varies greatly from the laws put in place in 1988.

Currently, six false alarms are allowed before a $25 citation is issued up to the 12th call-out. After that, the system is revoked until it’s serviced and recertified.

Alarm companies don’t have to worry about such issues because state law exempts them from fines.

Council member Danny Becton, who was visiting the Neighborhoods, Community Investments and Services Committee on Monday, said he supported the bill but also was worried about the impact on small businesses.

They sometimes have little control over false alarms, he said, due to employees, cleaning services and the like.

Chief Larry Schmitt of the sheriff’s office personnel division has been at council meetings supporting the bill. On Monday, he had backup from an industry professional.

Glen Mowery is a director with the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation and served 36 years in law enforcement, retiring from the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department as deputy chief.

He said Charlotte waived the first two false alarms, then started imposing $50 fines.

By the second or third fine, the alarms stopped. The efforts helped curb human error, which causes the majority of incidents.

“You’ve got to correct that,” he told committee members.

Schmitt said Charlotte was able to reduce its false alarms by more than 50 percent with tougher regulations.

A third-party vendor would be hired by the sheriff’s office to handle the registrations and notify users when compliance was needed.

Still, some on council have concerns over the issue.

Recently, council President Lori Boyer called the new rules “a nightmare waiting to happen” from constituent feedback over the burdens being solely on users and not companies. She compared it to when red-light cameras were implemented.

Council member Reggie Brown on Monday said he wanted to know who was protecting consumers in false-alarm cases.

State laws prohibit fines from being levied on alarm companies, even if they are found to be responsible for some false alarms. That’s caused some angst among council members during the discussions.

“That’s terrific,” council Vice President John Crescimbeni said Monday. “I love Tallahassee.”

Brown suggested going to the Duval Legislative Delegation with a request to help change that.

Until then, the strengthened laws are on track for final approval next week by the full council.

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