Peak Alarm Company, Inc., a Salt Lake City-based private security firm, filed suit today against the Salt Lake City Police Department. The suit claims the police maliciously targeted Peak Alarm's Central Station Manager, Jeff Howe, and prosecuted him on trumped-up charges that he had made a "false alarm." The purpose, according to the complaint, was to silence industry opposition to "no-response" ordinances, which prevent the police from responding to a private alarm unless the alarm is visually corroborated or otherwise "verified" in some fashion. The suit seeks reimbursement for attorneys' fees incurred in having those charges thrown out and other unspecified damages.
Peak Alarm is a homegrown, family-owned company whose 250 dedicated employees provide state-of-the-art private security services for homes, businesses and government entities, including public schools. It is also a leading voice in the industry against "no response" ordinances. Salt Lake City has its own "no-response" ordinance, enacted in 2000. It has also engaged in substantial public efforts to promote the adoption of "no-response" ordinances by other communities nationwide. Those efforts have included not only lawful advocacy but also more aggressive measures. For example, the City's Alarm Coordinator, Shanna Werner, has engaged in wide-ranging public attacks on the entire private security industry. She told the Wall Street Journal: "As far as I'm concerned, this whole alarm business is a scam."
The suit filed today claims that the City went beyond even such defamatory statements, making a calculated decision to escalate its attacks by creating a "test case" targeting the private security industry. Pursuant to that plan, the City brought criminal charges against Jeff Howe in connection with a June 2003 incident where two unauthorized individuals reportedly entered West High School and set off alarms. For calling Salt Lake police to the scene at the request of a Salt Lake City School District employee, Jeff Howe was arrested and charged with the criminal offense of violating the Utah State Code, Section 76-9-105(1), by making a false alarm ' a crime punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. The criminal charge was later dismissed as wholly lacking the necessary factual footing.
"Peak Alarm opposes 'no-response' ordinances because they are at best ineffective, and they can interfere with important community efforts to increase public safety by increasing the risk that genuine emergencies will not be addressed in a timely fashion," said Jerry Howe, President of Peak Alarm. "Salt Lake City has a different view, and that is fine. But the City wasn't content to have a fair and open public debate. It resorted to false and derogatory statements and then sought to use the full force of the criminal law to virtually put us out of business. Why else would they treat us like they do the kid who pulls the fire alarm at school or the guy who makes crank calls to 911? This is an abuse of power, and Peak Alarm won't stand quietly by while its employees and business are maligned."
The suit seeks damages and other relief to ensure that the police and other representatives cannot use the full power of the criminal law to target any individual or business for prosecution merely because they take a position that differs from the government's party line.