A burglary at the Retreat Gastropub occurred earlier this week, all recorded on video.
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The thieves stole piles of cash, stuffing the cash into their pockets, damaging store property trying to find more.
The entire time this was happening the alarm was going off inside the business, and police were notified, but didn't respond to the scene.
The business owner, Travis Howard, said his store is located in the Central West End of St. Louis. He said as soon as his security company received notification of the alarm going off they contacted the police.
However, the police dispatcher told the security 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 separate false alarm calls to his business within the last six months, and that the city says there are unpaid fines over those false alarm calls so it wouldn't respond.
Under city's law, there's a penalization for people and businesses who have false alarm calls, because officials say they strain resources.
According to the police department, after a fourth offense, the city can suspend the required permit for security alarm response regardless if a crime is occurring or not. According to Howard, he 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, so he owed the city backed fines.
St. Louis city officials say that they are not required by law to respond to future burglar alarms as long as there is an outstanding balance.
Yes, the city of St. Louis is essentially acting as if they're the mafia, refusing service from their police department over fines not paid by individuals or businesses. This is in essence a form of blackmail if not extortion.
Howard says he had no idea he owed the fine to begin with, because he paid the previous fine and the city said nothing of a remaining balance.
“I couldn't find it anywhere in our system, we track our bills closely,” he said. He also says the police in not responding lost precious time to catch the suspects responsible for the burglary.
“I think that's dangerous and I think it's ridiculous,” said Sam Alton, an attorney who says his client, restaurant owner Travis Howard, is trying to run a successful business in the Central West End, while the corrupt city and police department are running an illegal scheme.
Alton and his client both believe a fine to recoup the cost of false alarm calls is okay, and have no issue with that. However they say the police should never withhold service for money, and most decent people would agree.
“I consider that to be a shakedown,” said Alton, who has been a city attorney for half a dozen municipalities in north St. Louis County.
Alton says he would never advise officials to operate that way, saying that, “If someone is shot or killed or hurt, then that's on the city,” he said.
Defending their incompetent and likely illegal actions, St. Louis County says they charge a fee for every false alarm call, but that the “did not stop responding.
O’Fallon Missouri also charges fines after several false alarms, but police there would not stop responding” over those fees, which is clearly a lie.
A few other cities offer similar fines, such as Nashville, Tennessee. However upon contacting Nashville Police they said they weren't aware of any circumstances where police would not dispatch an officer due to previous false alarms.
Nearby Kansas City also has a permit system and police will not respond if you do not maintain a permit. In the same sense they charge fees for false alarms, Kansas City considers excessive false alarms as more than six violations, and would only then consider suspending a permit.
Even though St. Louis' policy has only been on the books 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 of St. Louis said that they had collected about $165,000 in false alarm fees last year alone.
The city, however, refused to provide an interview on their policies, so it's the media’s duty to inform the reader and viewers of this potentially catastrophic shakedown scheme against individuals and small businesses.
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