Jennifer Wilbanks of Duluth, Ga., also known as the “runaway bride,” captured national headlines in May after her daring wedding escape by bus to Albuquerque, N.M., and her subsequent false report to police that she had been kidnapped. Search efforts for the cold-footed bride — initiated by worried family members — were estimated by Duluth Police Chief Randy Belcher to cost taxpayers $40,000 to $60,000. American City & County asked readers of its weekly e-mail newsletter to share their opinions on whether public safety agencies should make people who call in false reports pay for the costs of responding to them. Below are some of the responses:
“I do believe the cost of false alarms, particularly intentional ones and repetitive ones, should be assumed in part or full by those generating the expense. While a solitary false alarm might not be punished severely, repetitive ones should be reviewed and considered for retribution. With more and more money being spent on homeland security, local governments cannot afford the cost of frivolous abuses of our limited resources.”
— Michael Wade, Finance Director, Belton, Mo.
“As a political conservative, I disdain new laws. Current criminal or civil laws likely exist that could engender just remuneration to the affected public departments by the defendant. The legal processes in place may also ensure that costs and penalties are justified.”
— Walter Davis, Engineering Department Senior Project Coordinator, Bloomington, Ind.
“I am a former officer in charge of the false alarm unit at the Los Angeles Police Department. The theory is that the general population should not have to pay for a false alarm caused by one resident. The vast majority of these alarms were set off unintentionally. If we charged for all those false burglar alarms, we certainly should charge those whose deliberate actions cause the expenditure of public safety resources. Charging these people would make them realize that public safety services come with a cost and someone has to pay, whether it is the one who called in the first place or the public as a whole.”
— Larry Williams, Bureau of Contract Administration Chief Management Analyst, Los Angeles