On Monday, January 27, Milford City Council asked City Solicitor David Rutt to review the city’s false alarm ordinance, which was implemented in 1989 and amended in 2003. The request was made at a workshop scheduled after the council meeting to discuss several business owners that approached council members with concerns about the fines for false alarms at their businesses.
“Abbott’s Grill and Mills Brothers Market contacted a few of us on council and requested an audience to discuss the fairness of the false alarm ordinance,” Councilman Skip Pikus explained. Councilman Doug Morrow suggested that Mr. Rutt look into the matter to see what other cities are doing, and to confirm if the ordinance complies with state law.
“I have looked into the matter, and the way this has historically been enforced could be a problem,” Mr. Rutt explained. “In fact, it may be unconstitutional, but not because anyone did anything wrong, but because the ordinance is thirty years old and things change. The ordinance says that false activation due to negligence will incur the fine, and then states that ‘any person convicted of violating the statute.’ Because we are treating this as a criminal offense, we should have been taking these cases to JP Court as the state defines ‘conviction’ as issued by the court. I believe this needs to be a civil offense.”
Mr. Rutt continued that most jurisdictions now treat false alarm fines as a civil offense, which eliminates the need for filing in JP Court, an officer to report to court on the day of the trial and other expenses. With the first offense being only $50, it would actually cost the city more to prosecute the offense than they would collect.
“Originally, this ordinance was put in place to help the fire company because a few businesses in town were constantly having false alarms,” Councilman Owen Brooks said. “When we looked into it further, we found the police were having the same problem. I don’t think we need to eliminate this completely.” Mr. Rutt and Mr. Morrow agreed, stating that instead of the fine being a criminal offense, it would be a civil offense much like a tax lien or grass cutting bill. Chief of Police, Keith Hudson, confirmed that there is a need to keep the ordinance in place, but agreed that criminal prosecution would be cost prohibitive for the city.
Mr. Rutt informed council that he would have information for them to review and discuss at the next board meeting, scheduled for Monday, February 10, 2014.