The Lock Box Revolution


The city of Cedar Falls, Iowa, is in an uproar over a new ordinance that requires property owners to place keys to their homes and businesses in lock boxes, which the fire department will be able to access using a master key.  Such an ordinance has existed since 2004, but the new regulations lower the threshold to include all businesses with alarm systems, apartment buildings with more than three units, and some rental homes.

The new ordinance is only one vote away from passing, and that vote is scheduled for today.  Local residents took the opportunity to express their concerns about privacy, and made some compelling arguments, as you can see in the video below:

Proponents of such laws say that the government needs ready access to private property, in order to provide fire and rescue services.  Since many of these structures are attached, a fire in one property would quickly jeopardize others.

The Cedar Falls lock box law takes this reasoning to an absurd extreme.  I especially like the point raised by one citizen, who said that if her building is on fire, the cost of a door smashed by boots and fire axes is a trivial concern.  On a sliding scale of liberty versus security, requiring citizens to stuff the keys to their property into vulnerable lock boxes – which could be broken into, or accessed without proper cause by government employees – is just too much to ask.

There is no reason to trust government to such a degree, and plenty of reasons not to.  How long did it take before Democrat political operatives shredded the “sacred” privacy rights of Joe The Plumber? 

This ordinance is also an example of an “unfunded mandate,” in which private citizens would be required to bear the cost of installing the new lock boxes.  The Cedar Falls Courier estimates the cost of these boxes to be $250 to $500 apiece.  The more expensive models “can send an alarm to the property owner when the box is opened.”  That makes the cheap boxes sound a lot less attractive.

If there’s really a broad public interest in putting these lock boxes on buildings, the public should pay for it, out of general revenues.  Of course, there’s not a lot of loose change jingling around in public treasuries these days.  Expect to see a lot more “unfunded mandates” from local, state, and federal agencies, because they’re running out of even those imaginary deficit dollars to spend.