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False Alarm

Council proposes ordinance to lower false alarms.

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The Memphis City Council is hoping to put an end to houses and businesses that cry wolf.

The council has proposed an ordinance to fine Memphis home and business owners $25 every time their alarms go off after their second false alarm call. At present, an address can have four false alarms before being penalized.

"We're probably losing millions of dollars in dealing with false alarms," said council chairman Edmund Ford Jr. "There is nothing in place to deter an individual or business from having a false alarm. Nashville is almost the same size as Memphis, but they have 90 percent less false alarms than Memphis does."

Ford, along with Councilman Myron Lowery, is sponsoring the ordinance. Ford said more than 48,000 false alarms occurred in Memphis in 2012. That number is disproportionately higher than Nashville, which had 3,888 last year, and Knoxville, which had 2,816.

The false alarm ordinance passed its second reading during a council meeting at city hall on July 2nd. Its third and final reading will take place on July 16th. If passed, the annual alarm permit fee would also increase from $5 to $10.

Memphians who have more than six false alarms will have their alarm permits revoked if the ordinance is passed — the present guidelines allow seven. To retrieve their permit, residents will be required to undergo a renewal process.

Ford said it currently costs between $90 and $200 when police officers and firefighters are dispatched for activated alarms. The ordinance would help them focus on actual emergencies.

"Nashville and Knoxville already have things in place to where they're able to recoup their cost. Memphis doesn't have anything in place at the time," Ford said. "When we look at 65 percent of the budget going to public safety, and [the city] not having any means of recovering our cost [for false alarm calls], it's time to look at how we can, because it does cost money for a police officer or firefighter to go to a place where there is a false alarm."

For the final reading of the ordinance, Ford said they will be consulting with Michael Freeman, administrator of the Memphis and Shelby County Metro Alarm Office, about why the city has an excessive number of false alarms, if the current laws on the books are being enforced correctly, and, if so, what needs to be done to successfully lower the false alarm rate.

"Police officers and firefighters could be going to another call of a more important nature instead of going to false alarm after false alarm after false alarm," Ford said. "I don't believe that we should stop going out to houses and businesses after so many false alarms, but I believe that something needs to be in place as a deterrent to the 48,000 false alarms that we got last year."

Representatives from the Memphis and Shelby County Metro Alarm Office and the Memphis Police Department were unavailable for comment at press time.

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