Community Police Group Uses Knock-and-Talk Tactic 

Community Police Group Uses Knock-and-Talk Tactic 
Posted by FoM on March 12, 2000 at 05:44:57 PT
By Dan Luzadder, RMN Staff Writer
Source: InsideDenver
A cold rain glistened on the streets of Denver's drug-infested inner-city neighborhoods early this month, driving most everyone but the police inside.On a dimly lighted East 26th Avenue, near Five Points, three Denver police cruisers pulled to the curb. Six members of the special Neighborhood Police Officer unit eased out of their cars shortly before 10 p.m. and prepared for a raid.
The "NPOs" from District 6, who deal daily with drugs and crime on Denver's toughest streets, were targeting two suspected crack houses.But the team -- Mark Crider, Aaron Lopez, Mike Lemmons, Bruce Gibbs, Victoria Oliver and their sergeant, John Spezze -- carried no SWAT gear, no tactical weapons.And no search warrants.Before the night ended, the multiracial team would have confiscated a half-dozen crack pipes and other drug paraphernalia, recovered some marijuana, issued citations sending two people into drug court, and arrested a third on an outstanding warrant.All without fights or aggressive action on the part of police or the suspects. The evening would start and end with an air of civility. No one would get hurt."It's just a knock-and-talk night for us," says Spezze, whose NPOs, along with undercover cops from the District 6 Impact Team, are responsible for more cases in Denver's Drug Court than any other police unit.The work contrasts starkly to the "no-knock" raid that left Ismael Mena dead and contributed to last month's firing of Denver Police Chief Tom Sanchez.Spezze's team also is one of Denver's most visible and successful community-policing units, originally created by Denver's new acting police chief, Gerry Whitman.Some officers predict it will be the success story Whitman uses to make his case that community policing should overtake the "tough-cop" culture that has mired Denver's police in controversy.On this particular night, Lopez and Gibbs had compiled information that crack, a highly addictive form of cocaine that is smoked, was being sold from an apartment in the 600 block of 26th Avenue, and at 23rd and Lafayette streets.The information didn't come from shadowy, confidential informants. It came from landlords, local businesspeople and neighbors who watch crack users come and go.Those sources carry the pager numbers of officers in the unit and call them regularly. The officers also attend community meetings and special gatherings where neighbors talk about drugs and other problems.The approach has colored Spezze's perspective."I get tired of hearing this talk about this being the war on drugs," Spezze said. "Down here, it's the war on neighborhood complaints."The team eased up the block on 26th and stopped at a door leading to the enclosed courtyard of a two-story, red-brick apartment building.Lopez pulled a key from his pocket, one given him by the building's owner, and the team quietly moved inside. Their voices were low. Their rubber-soled shoes made almost no noise on the metal steps leading to the balcony.Though the officers were alert, and one was stationed outside in the courtyard, there was not a hint of the paramilitary approach used by SWAT teams carrying out no-knock raids.Outside the apartment of an elderly man, Lopez knocked gently on the door. He called out "Police." But his voice was neither harsh nor aggressive.It took minutes for the door to open. The cops waited patiently. Crider, a husky, red-haired officer working in his shirt sleeves despite the damp cold, turned his head to whisper."Takes time to get rid of all those drugs, I guess," he said.The man finally opened the door. Inside, four men were playing cards, a woman was sitting on the floor, watching television without sound, and a fifth man was watching the card game. All were in their 50s or 60s.Lopez nodded to the man at the door. There have been some complaints, he explained. Could the officers come inside to talk?The man opened the door and the officers filed in, filling the small room. Lopez asked the man to step to the back of the apartment so they could talk privately. Is there crack cocaine in the house? he asked.The man said no. But Lopez saw a kitchen plate with a razor blade on it, and he noticed the floor littered with steel wool, a substance used as a filter in glass crack pipes.He advised the man of his Miranda rights, then asked for permission to search. Go ahead, the man told him.The officers took identification from everyone in the apartment, and their search was quiet and polite. They didn't dig too deep or disturb much.They didn't need to. Quickly they found crack pipes hidden in a pair of boots, under some loose clothing and in other spots.For the elderly renter, who was eventually cited for possession of drug paraphernalia, the fallout will be more severe than an appearance in court. Possession of drug paraphernalia will violate his lease, and he is likely to lose his federal housing subsidy.He complained bitterly."This is the bad part," he said, shaking his head. "This is what's bad for me. I could lose my housing, and I can't get it back for seven years."Spezze sympathized, but reminded him it isn't their first call at this address."A lot of these elderly folks get used by these people who sell crack," he said. "They come right in and take over an apartment. And what can these folks do about it?"The identification checks also yielded an outstanding warrant on one of the visitors to the apartment. He was patted down, searched and cuffed. Oliver took him to the district lockup.The rest of the police crew was out of the apartment in minutes. They formed up again at 23rd and Lafayette.There, the procedure was the same. Gibbs knocked, Crider called out "Denver police" and peered into a darkened window. When the door opened, Gibbs asked the young man who answered whether they could come in to talk.Inside, the air was thick with the smell of marijuana smoke. The young father of two toddlers, who were asleep on a blanket on the apartment floor, sat patiently on a couch."So you've been smoking a little bud tonight," Gibbs said to the man. "That's no big deal. But we're going to have to write you a ticket for it."Gibbs asked the man where he keeps his marijuana. The man pointed to a cigar box on the television. Gibbs and Lemmons confiscated a small amount of the drug.They wrote a citation for the young father to appear in court on a charge of drug possession. The officers questioned him about crack, but he said he knew of no other drugs in the house.He granted permission to search, but the officers spent little time at it. The apartment was cluttered with toys and clothes, and they agreed a more thorough search wasn't likely to turn up much else.They were more concerned about the two toddlers.The older child woke and said hello to the officers. Crider knelt on the floor and talked to him. Lopez handed the child a flashlight to look at."That's good," Crider told the young boy. "Get it good and sticky for the officer."Crider grinned at Lopez, and explained, "He's got candy all over his hands."Spezze warned the man to clean up his apartment. It's too dirty for the children, he told him, and smoking marijuana around them is bad for their health."We'll be back in a couple of days to check on you," he said. He warned the man that if things were not cleaned up, they would call social workers.Once outside, Spezze said the man wouldn't have to worry about keeping the apartment clean. The drug possession charge was likely to get him evicted, just like the elderly man blocks away."At least we can do that much," Spezze said. "We move them out of the neighborhood. That helps the neighbors. The neighbors get tired of seeing this crack traffic day in and day out. It's one way we can help. But there aren't any easy answers."Contact Dan Luzadder at (303) 892-2600 or Luzadder RockyMountainNews.comPublished: March 12, 2000  Copyright, Denver Publishing Co.Related Articles:Denver Police Chief Stepping Down No-Knock Raid Sparks FBI Probe Knock Numbers Going Up To Slam Door Shut On Some Raids 
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Comment #2 posted by Saddened on March 13, 2000 at 20:10:04 PT
Throw Away People
The policy of making them move so you can have a "clean" neighborhood set a group of people apart as "undesirables", or "throw away people." This policy is the same kind that got a lot of people killed by the Nazi's. They were the Jews.
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Comment #1 posted by kaptinemo on March 12, 2000 at 07:35:38 PT:
Knock & Talk = no 4th Ammendment Defense
Once outside, Spezze said the man wouldn't have to worry about keeping the apartment clean. The drug possession charge was likely to get him evicted, just like the elderly man blocks away. "At least we can do that much," Spezze said. "We move them out of the neighborhood. That helps the neighbors. The neighbors get tired of seeing this crack traffic day in and day out. It's one way we can help. But there aren't any easy answers."Such wonderful, compassionate, helpful policemen! Doesn't it just warm your heart that the elderly man and the guy with the kids will soon be homeless. In winter. In Colorado. Well done, officers! Well done! (Pardon me while I retch)Let this serve as a warning: Once you let 'em in, it's all over. A judge will say that because you let them in, you willingly gave up your 4th Ammendment Rights. And you *don't* have to let them in. Not without a warrant. If they hand you a card, don't take it; a popular tactic is that as soon as you reach for it, they grab you, haul you outside and place you under arrest for a supposed false threatening move. It's called 'arresting the hand'. Then they go ahead and search your home, without a warrant, because you made a 'threatening move' and that serves as their probable cause.A word to the wise: no police visit is ever 'social'. If they try to get all chatty, they have no warrant. No warrant, no entry.
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