$50 fine, no police service: News 4 investigating SLMPD's false - KMOV.com

$50 fine, no police service: News 4 investigating SLMPD's false alarm policies

Posted: Updated:
The crime was easy to see on surveillance video: a burglar riffling through the back office, stuffing cash into his pockets and then trying to open cash boxes by slamming them on the ground. (Credit: Retreat Gastropub) The crime was easy to see on surveillance video: a burglar riffling through the back office, stuffing cash into his pockets and then trying to open cash boxes by slamming them on the ground. (Credit: Retreat Gastropub)
ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV.com) -

It's as plain as day, a burglar rifled through a popular local business and stole handfuls of cash.

But when called, police didn't immediately respond. All because the business owed a $50 fine.

It's a story News 4 has been following since Monday.

“I think that's dangerous and I think it's ridiculous,” said Sam Alton.

Alton is an attorney who says his client, restaurant owner Travis Howard, is trying to do it right, building a successful business in the Central West End.

But what happened to Howard Monday, Alton says, is absurd,

“It’s a joke,” Alton said.

Monday, a burglar broke into Retreat Gastropub in the Central West End. Surveillance video showed the culprit stuffing cash into his pockets, then slamming cash boxes on the ground in order to open them, the alarm blaring the whole time.

As soon as the alarm started sounding, Howard’s security company called police.

A dispatcher told the company an officer would not be on his way.

"Okay, we don't dispatch on a suspended alarm,” said the dispatcher.

Howard has had three false alarm calls to his business within the last six months.

Under city law, there's a process to penalize people for false alarms, because officials say they strain resources.

After a fourth offense, the city can suspend the required permit for security alarm. But Howard was told they also suspend for non-payment of fines.

Howard had paid one fine, but not the penalty for his most recent false alarm.

Until he ponied up, city officials say they are not required by law to respond to future burglar alarms.

Howard says he had no idea he owed the fine.

“I couldn't find it anywhere in our system, we track our bills closely,” he said.

He says they lost precious time to catch the culprit.

He and Alton believe a fine to recoup the cost of false alarm calls is one thing. But they say the police should never withhold service for money.

“I consider that to be a shakedown,” said Alton.

As a city attorney for half a dozen municipalities in north St. Louis County, Alton says he would never advise officials to operate that way.

“If someone is shot or killed or hurt, then that's on the city,” he said.

St. Louis County says they charge a fee for every false alarm call, but would not stop responding.

O’Fallon Missouri also charges fines after several false alarms, but police there would not stop responding.

Nashville, Tennessee police told News 4 they weren't aware of any circumstances where police would not dispatch an officer due to previous false alarms.

Like St. Louis, Kansas City has a permit system and police will not respond if you do not maintain a permit. But while they charge fees for false alarms, Kansas City considers excessive false alarms as more than six. and would only then consider suspending a permit.

Even though St. Louis' policy has been in place for more than a decade, Alton says, it's time now for a change.

 “That is the point where someone needs to step in and say, you can't do that, you're putting people at risk,” Alton said.

The city told News 4 they collected about $165,000 in false alarm fees last year.

So far, officials haven't provided an interview on their policies. News 4 has reached out to other elected officials on this story. 

Copyright 2017 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

Watch News 4 Now

Mouse over player for controls · LAUNCH FULL PLAYER

Powered by Frankly