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Billings places fine on commercial property owners with too many false police and fire alarms

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Posted at 5:33 PM, Nov 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-23 19:33:51-05

BILLINGS — Every year, Billings police officers and firefighters respond to thousands of false alarms for fire and burglary, mostly triggered by commercial business security systems. On Monday, the Billings City Council hoped to damper the false alarms by approving an ordinance that placed $250 fine on the property owner's third false alarm.

“I think it’s motivation to maintain your system and make sure that you don’t have things hanging down and setting security alarms off and paying attention to it. Rather than just, hey let's just send the police department and make them check it out," said Mike Spini, Billings fire marshal.

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Billings Police Lt. Shawn Mayo (left) and Billings Fire Marshall Mike Spini answer questions from the Billings City Council on Nov. 22, 2021.

The Council unanimously approved the ordinance and the fine will not apply to residential property owners, only commercial property owners.

The false alarms are broken into two categories for police and fire responses that will be reset yearly. For example, a commercial property owner can have two fire false alarms and the third will result in a fine, while at the same time they might only have had one false burglary alarm that year.

When the ordinance takes effect at the start of the new year, letters will be sent out to commercial property owners who have false alarms, informing them of the city's new policy.

There's also an appeal process built into the ordinance for property owners to dispute the fine.

The fire department has made 833 false alarm responses on average between 2018 and 2020, Spini said. The current year has so far seen 752 false fire alarm calls. About 75 percent of the false alarm calls come from non-residential properties, Spini said.

The police department sees an even larger amount of false alarms. Billings Police Lt. Shawn Mayo shared false alarm data collected from 2015 to 2021. Alarm malfunctions or errors account for about 3,000 false alarm calls per year on average, according to Mayo's data. Police officers show up to about 1,200 calls per year where the area seems secure and there was no suspicious activity found.

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A graph showing Billings Police Department false alarm calls for the past five years, provided at the Nov. 22 Billings City Council Meeting.

Mayo said oftentimes the culprit for a false burglar alarm is employee or owner error or forgotten pass codes. Other times a strong wind can send items affixed to the ceilings in businesses swinging, thus setting off multiple security alarms at once across town.

Spini said they hope to cut the number of false alarms down by 25 percent in the new fine's first year in place. Money brought in from the fine will go to the city's general fund.

To read the ordinance in its entirety, find a link in the City Council agenda by clicking here.

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