Companies alarmed by ordinance

Published 11:03 pm Tuesday, February 17, 2009

At least one local home security business is angry about the false alarm reduction program.

William Shumate and his wife, Muriel, who own Digital Security Systems, said at a public information meeting Tuesday that they plan to try to get the ordinance amended.

The meeting was held at Suffolk Police Sector Two to disseminate information to the public about the new false alarm reduction program. The ordinance, which took effect in July but has not yet been enforced, aims to reduce false burglar, robbery and panic alarms by educating alarm system owners and fining owners whose systems continually register false alarms.


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About 95 percent of all alarm calls that come into Suffolk’s emergency center are false alarms caused by user error, pets and other moving objects triggering motion sensors, and other non-crime-related causes. Suffolk Police spend precious hours responding to these calls when they could be at a more urgent situation or taking care of other business, said Capt. Stephanie Burch with the Suffolk Police Department.

The Shumates say they are opposed to parts of the ordinance, and even called parts of it illegal. They also said the ordinance creates a precedent that other localities are bound to follow, creating an undue burden on a small business such as theirs.

For example, the ordinance says that after a customer’s fifth false alarm within a one-year registration period, they may lose the right to have police respond to future alarms.

William Shumate said that causes Digital Security Systems to have to breach its contract with the customer.

“We have a contract between us and the customer to monitor them,” he said. His wife added that a customer might try to sue Digital Security Systems, the city or Alarm Tracking and Billing, the third party engaged to help bill repeat offenders, if he got hurt as a result of lack of police response to a legitimate alarm.

Shumate said some of his Suffolk customers had already refused to have their personal information given to Alarm Tracking and Billing, which is a requirement of the ordinance.

About 20 residents also showed up at the meeting to get more information about the ordinance. Some had concerns about their information being given to a third party because of hackers, but ATB president Michael Zelesnik assured them that ATB does not keep its data on computers that are connected to the Internet, and therefore the computers cannot be hacked over the Web.

Other residents were worried about being billed for a false alarm when it actually was a break-in, but the suspect fled before police arrived. Burch said that the police would conduct an investigation, and no penalty would be assessed if there was evidence a crime or attempted crime had been committed. Residents also have the option to file an appeal if they think they have been billed for an alarm that was caused by an actual crime or attempted crime.

Police and city officials plan a second informational meeting, with residents of South Suffolk, at 6 p.m. First Precinct building, 230 E. Washington St.

The city will ask alarm companies to notify their Suffolk customers of the changes that are coming.