how a 3-month-old “knock-and-talk” task force finds criminals.
Source: Dallas Morning News.
The task force is part of a renewed effort to target small-time drug dealers after the department reduced the number of undercover detectives dedicated to investigating low-level drug crimes more than two years ago. Police shifted their focus to larger-scale traffickers, but now they blame petty drug disputes for an uptick in murders this year.
Since the 46-member knock-and-talk task force started in May, its officers have made 509 arrests and seized 131 firearms and 404 pounds of drugs, said Deputy Police Chief Christina Smith, who oversees the narcotics division. The task force also has made 399 possible drug house contacts.
“It’s another way to lower crime and to make good arrests that will end up putting and keeping the criminals in jail,” Smith said.
But some experts say knock-and-talks are risky and may yield only the easiest cases.Consent searches have sometimes been abused at traffic stops, leading several Texas jurisdictions to require written consent to search. In Austin, after racial profiling reports found significant racial disparities regarding who was subjected to consent searches, the department began to require officers to get supervisors' permission before performing them. Over time, once the low-hanging fruit has been disposed of, Dallas may find similar problems with "knock and talk." It's good that they're using their body mics to record consent, but the department should insist that officers continue recording throughout their interactions.
The investigations rely mostly on neighbors’ tips about unusual activity. Uniformed officers walk up to front doors and ask for permission to go inside. Police record the audio of the conversations to ensure that they have explicit consent to enter.
Still, the dynamic is fascinating. Reported the News, "The shift in strategy caused strife among narcotics officers who think the best way to eliminate drug houses is to make undercover drug purchases." But that case is hard to make given the large number of arrests resulting from the tactic. This method seems to lead to plenty of arrests and has the added benefit of generating more confidential informants who may have information about more high-volume distributors.
Radley Balko has described how ubiquitous the use of SWAT teams has become during the routine execution of search warrants in the war on drugs, but Dallas cops are finding that, if they show up and ask nicely, plenty of suspects will invite them in the front door. Given that reality, couldn't the use of SWAT teams to execute routine search warrants be diminished? It seems like the risks have been dramatically overstated.