Proposed changes would increase fines for false alarms in Columbia

A new proposal making its way through Columbia’s city council would fine businesses and homeowners hundreds of dollars if their security system makes false alarm calls. Columbia Police Chief ‘Skip’ Holbrook said a proposed change to a city ordinance would save officers’ time and resources. City leaders are discussing increasing fines on homeowners and businesses that have security alarm systems that make false alarm calls.

Councilman Howard Duvall is the chair of Columbia’s public safety committee. “Almost 5,000 alarms that come through 911 from alarm systems and 94% of those alarms are false alarms,” he said.

According to the police department, in 2022 there were an average of 12.5 false alarm calls each day. That added up to more than 4,400 false calls that year. Right now in Columbia, there is no charge for someone’s first two false alarm calls. If it happens three times in the same year, there is a $25 fee. After that, residents are charged $100 for every false alarm.

Under the change, residents still won’t get charged for the first two alarms, but after three false alarms, they’ll be charged $100. For the eighth and ninth occurrences, a $250 fee will be charged, and anything after that is $500. Duvall said most of the false alarms come from human error, or in some cases, using a faulty system.

“The police department, like all police departments, is a little short-handed right now,” Duvall said. “We’re around 60% of our budgeted employees, which means they have to work harder to cover everything that needs to be covered and if we can remove over 4,000 false alarms that would certainly help the work load.”

This possible increase has businesses paying attention. Jasiah Bowers at Carolina Hair Studios on Main Street said paying extra money for fines is not something his business can afford.

“Especially if I’m getting charged a pretty hefty fee, then I’ll definitely make sure there are no false alarms,” he said. “It could go to products, it could go to the stylists, it could go to the business. The security system itself is already pretty expensive so that extra money could be used somewhere greater for the business.” Duvall said there would be a period of time after approval where the city would publicise the changes and educate people about the increased fees.

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