John S. Moses was alarmed when he was notified of a decades-old city ordinance affecting the security system at his car dealership. The owner of Bay Chevrolet received a courtesy letter from the Mobile Police Department informing him he needed to purchase a $50 alarm permit following a recent false alarm at the dealership.

“I happen to think it’s nothing more than another tax,” Moses said. “Between sales taxes and property taxes there should be enough to fund the police department adequately. If you pass something 20 years ago and don’t do anything with it you should let it go.”  

MPD Chief James Barber began enforcing the ordinance after Mardi Gras. It charges an annual $25 fee to residences with security systems and a $50 fee to businesses with systems to help cut down on the city’s 30,000 false alarms each year, which cost the department an estimated $1.5 million.

“When you take over an organization, you look for efficiencies and cost savings,” Barber said. “You find a lot of things that are a waste and you find there’s things you were supposed to be doing. We were supposed to be collecting a permit fee.”

False alarms typically take two officers out of service for about an hour, Barber said. While the permit fee is collected by the MPD, the funds are put into the city’s general fund budget, he said.

Barber said while the permit was supposed to protect home and business owners from being fined for their first three false alarms in a calendar year, the department had been operating this way without charging the permit fee. Permits can be obtained through the MPD website, or at police headquarters on Government Boulevard.

Enforcement has begun, with courtesy letters going out following false alarm calls, but at some point the courtesy letters will stop. At that point, Barber said, home and business owners will be charged $100 for a false alarm. Under the new enforcement, the permit will do what it’s supposed to and protect the system owner from being fined for up to three false alarms, Barber said. A fourth false alarm will cost a permitted user $50 under the ordinance.

Moses said he averages around four false alarms per year, which may be triggered by a cleaning crew, by animals or other motion or disturbance.
“There should be a review process to allow a business or an individual to prove it wasn’t their fault,” Moses said.

Jim Reaves, the southern area vice president for the Alabama Alarm Association and owner of Custom Security in Mobile, said he supports the move.

“It’s no different than if you get an electrical permit for your house,” Reaves said. “You pay $25 to hire an electrician to do the work.”

Reaves said he was in the process of sending letters to customers explaining the permit process.

Jackie Rodgers, office manager at TSI in Mobile, said the permit issue hasn’t negatively impacted their business, although they have received phone calls from customers.

“It has been wild,” she said. “It’s not a high fee, but I think it’s just the shock of not knowing that fee has ever been enforced.”