Salt Lake City cuffs central station manager

Peak’s Jeff Howe faces criminal charges; SLC PD claims he filed a false report
Saturday, November 1, 2003

SALT LAKE CITY - A central station employee here is scheduled to go on trial in December for filing a false police report as a result of Salt Lake City’s verified response ordinance.

Jeff Howe, central station manager for Peak Alarm, was arrested earlier this year after police were dispatched to a school and determined that there was no cause for dispatch. Under the ordinance, companies are required to dispatch a private guard to the scene to confirm a criminal event before police are called.

If convicted of the class B misdemeanor, Howe faces up to six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

According to Ron Walters of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition, who has spoken with Howe and is familiar with the circumstances of the case, an alarm went off in a public school. When Howe called the school to determine if it was a real alarm, a person at the school indicated that there were two unauthorized people in the building. The person at the school asked that police be dispatched, so police were called.

Upon arriving at the school, police found no evidence that there had been a crime in progress, so Howe was arrested, Walters said.

Because Howe’s trial was scheduled for Dec. 17, he said he was unable to comment on the case. He referred inquiries to his attorney, Tristan Smith of Salt Lake City, who could not be reached for comment for this story.

Walters said Howe’s arrest was the result of the Salt Lake City Police Department’s desire to make an example out of someone, but that he thinks the plan will backfire because of the company’s resolve to fight the charges. Howe is the son of Peak Alarm’s owner, Jerry Howe.

“I really think they picked the wrong one,” he said.

Should Howe be convicted, Walters said, the repercussions for companies who monitor alarms in Salt Lake City, as well as any other city with verified response, could be far-reaching.

“Literally, every alarm dispatcher in that marketplace is susceptible to being arrested,” Walters said. “I’m still speechless about the whole thing to be honest.”

Shanna Werner, who heads up the alarm division of the Salt Lake City Police Department, said she could not discuss specifics of the case, but that she hoped Howe would be found guilty.

“I’m hoping for the enforcement of our ordinance that it goes well,” she said. “If the jury lets Peak Alarm off the hook, to me that’s a signal to other alarm companies to call Salt Lake City police and tell them whatever they want.”

According to Werner, Howe’s attorney rejected a pre-trial offer of submitting a plea in abeyance. Had Howe accepted that offer, he would have admitted culpability in the case, but in six months, if he didn’t commit any more crimes, that culpability would have been taken off his record.

The main reason Howe rejected that plea, Walters said, may have had a lot to do with the industry in which he’s working.

“Part of what happens is if you get convicted of a crime, you can’t be in the alarm industry anymore,” he said. “They’re going after his livelihood. Plus, they’re a company that has guards and I know that if you’ve got a guard company, you can’t have a criminal past.”

Walters, who recently spent several days in the Salt Lake City area working with alarm company representatives and public officials on a proposed repeal of a false alarm ordinance in nearby Murray, said he is not aware of another person having been charged with filing a false police report.

“To my knowledge, this is the only one,” he said. “If another case was out there, I would have heard about it.”

What this case boils down to, Walters said, is the police department telling the alarm industry that it won’t respond if a crime has not been committed, which he said is asking too much of central station employees.

“ What they’re expecting the alarm company to do is more than screen these calls,” Walters said. “The bottom line is it’s not the industry’s job to figure out if it’s a felony or a misdemeanor or whatever. It’s the industry’s job to figure out if the police are needed. If the occupant feels that the police are needed, then they should be going. That’s what they’re paying their taxes for.”

Walters said he wouldn’t be surprised if, after the criminal trial, Peak Alarm or Howe files a lawsuit against the police department.

“There will probably be a civil trial too, but I can’t say that for a fact,” he said. “If it was me, I’d sue the police department.”