Monday, February 22, 2010

Taking the easy way out: Dallas police substitute 'knock and talk' for real investigation

Last Wednesday at the Dallas News Crime Blog, Steve Thompson reported that:

Dallas police began a new initiative today to combat drugs. Citywide, officers are headed to suspected drug houses to "knock and talk" with the occupants.

The technique involves knocking on the door of a suspected drug house and trying to talk the people inside into inviting officers in to search without a warrant. Police can enter without a search warrant if they see illegal activity happening.

Dallas police have long used the technique, but its use will be widened during the next few months to include more officers and more areas within the city. ...

"We're doing this to close these particular locations down," said Deputy Chief Rick Watson at Southwest Patrol, who is heading up the effort.

I'm always amazed that anybody - much less anybody with a drug stash in their house - would consent to a police officer searching their home without a good reason or a warrant. That said, such methods have stood up in the past as a legal tactic under current 4th Amendment case law (depending on what's said and done at the door). Crooks and non-crooks alike are intimidated by police and most folks don't know their rights in such situations, so often they'll acquiesce. Given how drivers react when police ask to search their vehicles (almost always consenting), there's good reason to believe many would do the same at their residence.

On the flip side, this is lazy police work that lends itself to abuse when neighbors start calling the cops on one another or officers use the tool perniciously. As I wrote in the comments at the Dallas News Crime Blog, "If these are 'suspected drug houses,' presumably they have reason to suspect them. Why not investigate, establish probable cause and get a search warrant?" Taking morally dubious shortcuts seldom pays off in the long run.

I also suspect, since officers' unstated goal during these visits is to "close these particular locations down," that these targets won't be expressly told they can refuse the search if they choose to do so. That knowledge makes a big difference as to whether people consent, though courts have ruled police don't have to tell them they have that right. In Austin, after APD began requiring informed written consent for searches at traffic stops, the number of vehicle searches performed without probable cause declined 63%.

If Dallas police were serious about ending drug dealing in these neighborhoods, they wouldn't be looking for shortcuts based on rumors but applying strategies with more proven track records. The most successful approach I'm aware of is the High Point model, where police actually investigate, make cases on individuals, then confront them and their families with evidence in an effort to coerce them to change their behavior. Without that community assistance, a new crackhouse pops up as soon as you get rid of the last one. But it's hard work to empower communities to confront crime, while doing "knock and talk" in response to unverified complaints from neighbors basically amounts to engaging in fishing expeditions that require few investigative resources.

The "knock and talk" tactic will inevitably result in arrests here and there, but it won't solve the problem, may create a few, and amounts to taking the easy way out without reducing the city's drug problem.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

"I'm always amazed that anybody - much less anybody with a drug stash in their house - would consent to a police officer searching their home without a good reason or a warrant."

Don't be. I used to know a fed (Customs) who would go up to a home he knew from experience was a money laundering stash house (but one that he didn't have enough evidence to obtain a warrant to search) and ask for permission to enter and search it. He was so smooth in hsi technique that he would get the permission only to discover million dollar plus sums of money being sat on prior to being shipped to Colombia. Did it numerous times and it was always clean, standing up in federal court when the attorneys showed up. Strange but true. :~)

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I know, believe me. When I was researching traffic interdiction by drug task forces I heard some ridiculous (and 100% true) stories about folks consenting to vehicle searches with all sorts of incriminating evidence of drug smuggling in their possession. Utterly irrational, but common as dirt.

OTOH, these are he-said she-said situations and if the conversation isn't recorded, it's impossible after the fact to know how consent was obtained. It protects the officer (from false allegations) as much as the suspect to record the request and approval for consent or get it in writing.

TxBluesMan said...

Not on subject, but any comments on the Supremes narrowing the applicability of Batson?

It was in a Texas capital murder case, Thaler v. Haynes, ___ U.S. ___, 09-2730, (2010).

Nicholas said...

Wow anon, it's shocking that a federal judge upheld a search and seizure performed by a federal agent. Forgive me for rolling my eyes while making that statement.

Another possible result of these knock and talks is violence. Walking right up to a drug dealer's door is not exactly the safest procedure, ESPECIALLY when an officer sees something illegal when the door is opened and attempts to forcibly enter. No bueno.

Charlie O said...

Never, EVER, consent to a warrantless search of your home, person or especially your vehicle. Don't do it. EVER. For any reason. And for all your LE asskissers, it doesn't matter if you don't have anything to hide, no warrant, no search, not ever.

Anonymous said...

Grits, why is asking for consent to search "morally dubious" or "pernicious?" Criminals, by and large, are stupid. Is there something in the Bible that I missed about exploiting a criminal's stupidity to make a case? I agree that recording consent or getting written consent is the better practice for any number of reasons, but I fail to see how a consensual search that results in the recovery of contraband is any less effective as a crime-fighting technique as a search conducted pursuant to a warrant or any other lawful exception to the warrant requirement.

Anonymous said...

Well this certainly flies in the face of what SWAT teams (who create violence through invasion assaults, most often simply on an "anonymous tip or "source")want you to believe in this type of situation.

They argue for violent paramilitary attacks on SUSPECTED - not convicted - persons and property. They claim it's SAFER????

But here, we are seeing things like "knock and talk" and doing actual investigative police work.

How odd. A complete 180 turn around - and some common sense for a change.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

1:50, good point! I agree this method is preferable to a SWAT raid. But if the goal is just to get consent to search and take one drug dealer off the street, they'll be replaced by another the next day. Simply fishing for any excuse for a petty possession arrest doesn't seem like an especially helpful approach. But you're right. I suppose I'm not really against "knock and talk" so much as "talk = explicit pretext for search."

@1:44 - Pressuring or manipulating people to give up their Fourth Amendment rights out of ignorance or fear without probable cause is the part I referred to as "pernicious" or "morally dubious." Also, there's no indication how targets would be selected, which is an area rife for potential abuse. And of course, just like at traffic stops, most searches likely won't result in seizing contraband, in which case bullying people to give up their rights serves no legitimate government purpose and opens itself up to abuse, as described in the post.

The larger point, though, was that these fishing expeditions aren't as effective as more comprehensive investigative strategies like the High-Point approach. Instead, "knock and talk" is more a PR initiatives to placate complaining neighbors without really addressing the root problems.

Anonymous said...

There's no law that requires you to open your door to a police officer either.

[url]http://www.policecrimes.com/police.html[/url]

Red Leatherman said...

Charlie O: I totally agree with you and I never consent to over 3 fairly recent request to search my vehicle and the proof that I had nothing to hide is in the fact that the ensuing warrant-less searches performed after my refusal to consent turned up nothing but a couple of hours irritation at the side of the road being searched and sniffed.
I feel that the knock and talk searches will not likely require consent either.

Anonymous said...

" There's no law that requires you to open your door to a police officer either. "

Pretty much doesn't matter when they routinely use battering rams and stun grenades to commit assault and break down your doors .... because they want to sniff around hoping to find something ..... police state tactics are just fine with them.

Anonymous said...

"1:50, good point! I agree this method is preferable to a SWAT raid. But if the goal is just to get consent to search and take one drug dealer off the street, they'll be replaced by another the next day."

Just as the same is true with a SWAT attack, particularly against innocent, or at worst, consensual and most typically non-violent offenders.

Not really arguing with you Grits. Love your work!

It just that:

1) Anything is better than a paramilitary attack (in which people and property are destroyed) to serve warrants. Not to mention the police are committing an arguably illegal violent assault against both "innocent until proven guilty people" and the 4th Amendment, and

2) As in any of this country's "prohibition(s) history" the offender removed - is replaced instantly the next day, by another "offender".

And no, I am not a supporter of drug use.

I am however a supporter of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and see nothing but failure, destruction, militarization and economic folly associated with this ludicrous "war" on drugs.

Charity said...

"Criminals, by and large, are stupid. Is there something in the Bible that I missed about exploiting a criminal's stupidity to make a case?" 1:44

Criminals are not, by and large, stupid. This is a gross over-generalization on your part. And there is nothing Biblical about exploitation of any sort of another human being, nor or there anything Biblical about our Constitution.

TDCJEX said...

Charlie O is correct never ever consent to a search .One step further do not let LE into your home with out a warrant . when interacting with LE all you have to do is give them your ID if they ask any questions politely respectfully state with all respect officer , “ I do not have anything to say to you am I free to go ?” If they say no ask why Never agree to let a cop enter your home with out a warrant .Once you do you have consented to search or so says the right wing of the Supreme court. So much for limited less intrusive government

Using some pretext it s raining ,cold etc “could we talk inside” is a tactic taught to get you to let cops into your home when you otherwise would not . I it is not stupidity or ignorance either . Most people do not know exactly what their rights are until they have been trough the system . The sad part is we should be taught this in grade schools and have it repeatably taught along with why this is so important .

one irony is a perosn who has been though the system is much more are of their rights and what ot do when cops show up .The false threat of “going to jail” is a joke to us.we know that if thecops had probable cause we would have been arrested and booked .no need to have “talk”

The best solution is to end the drug war .It is a colossal waste of limited resources , increases crime and violence .Not to mention it corrupts the whole system .

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, Great piece. Real investigations went out of style when the US Supremes endorsed plea bargaining. Which explains false arrests, wrongful convictions & overcrowding.

Dallas PD has a long history of misconduct and this will open the floodgates for more. All the good the current DA is doing will be forshadowed by the consequences of substituting and neglecting. I wonder if Mr. Watkins is on board with this? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

"When I was researching traffic interdiction by drug task forces I heard some ridiculous (and 100% true) stories about folks consenting to vehicle searches with all sorts of incriminating evidence of drug smuggling in their possession. Utterly irrational, but common as dirt."

Why is this surprising? There are 2 million plus people in our jails. Many of these cases are dismissed or diverted to a drug education class. Drug users see their friends released from jail the same day they went in. Where's the fear factor in getting arrested for drugs when that is the consequence?

Along the SW border, small quantities of drugs is now defined as less 500 lbs of marijuana. Federal prosecutors are so overwhelmed with these trafficking cases they can't reject them fast enough. We don't have the resources to provide them a nice hot and a cot for the next few months or years, so we recycle the traffickers back to Mexico. Your federal stimulus dollars at work.

Anonymous said...

All the anti-police nut jobs in this strain aside... Work smart, not hard...

That saves money Grits.

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