Residents and businesses with overactive burglar alarm systems that send false alarm signals and waste the time of New Orleans police officers could find themselves facing steeper fines that culminate with their alarm systems being ignored by the cops under new rules passed by the City Council on Thursday.
Police officials have been pushing for the policy as a way of cutting down on time wasted responding to false alarms. That could mean faster responses to actual crimes and more time to investigate crime scenes.
“This will reduce response time and increase the attention to thorough investigations,” council President Jason Williams said.
The council approved the new regulations 7-0.
Under the new policy, a single false alarm won’t garner any penalties, but the second false signal from an address will result in a fine of $75. A third false alarm will come with a $150 fine, and police will stop responding to automatic alarm systems at that address for the rest of that calendar year.
The count will restart at the beginning of each year as long as all fines are paid up.
City officials stressed that the new rules apply only to automated alarm systems. Residents and businesses will still be able to call the police and get a response even at a site where the alarm system is on the do-not-respond list.
A private company will be hired to administer the program and handle appeals from residents and businesses. It will replace an 11-member board that is now supposed to oversee the process but that city officials described as overly cumbersome.
Cracking down on repeated false alarms has been seen as one way to increase the NOPD’s boots on the street while the city continues attempts to recruit new members to the depleted force. Nearly a third of the department’s emergency calls are responses to false alarms, and about 98.8 percent of all the calls the department receives from alarm systems turn out to be false.
All those calls take time away from officers that could be spent more productively, officials said.
City officials are gearing up for further tweaks aimed at freeing up time for NOPD officers. The next step is expected to be a request to the Legislature next year to allow civilians to write up reports for minor auto accidents, rather than requiring an officer to be on the scene.
Representatives of the alarm industry urged the council to delay or kill the ordinance. Instead, they called on the city to enforce provisions that are already on the books but unused.
Under those rules, enacted in 1997, fines wouldn’t kick in until the fourth false alarm and would start at $25 and rise to $75 if the false alarms kept coming. Police wouldn’t stop responding to alarms at an address until after the 10th false alarm.
“The police are lacking a presence in the city of New Orleans, and the citizens have their security systems as an early warning system,” said Marie Nicholich, with the Louisiana Life Safety and Security Association. “Certainly they do make mistakes and the abusers should be punished, but we feel there should be a little more leniency in the structure.”
Nicholich said she would continue working with the city on tweaks to the ordinance, even after its passage.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.