Dallas Police Politely Knock to Catch Small-Time Drug Dealers

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    NEWSLETTERS

    NBCDFW.com

    Some police officers are using a more polite tactic to catch small-time drug dealers and other low-level suspected criminals.

    Members of a "knock-and-talk" task force, established in May based on an idea by police Chief David Brown, are using tips from neighbors, approaching possible drug-dealing homes and asking to be allowed inside, The Dallas Morning News reported Monday.

    Dallas police more than two years ago reduced the number of undercover detectives investigating low-level drug crimes. Police shifted their focus to larger-scale traffickers.

    Officers with the 46-member knock-and-talk task force have made 509 arrests and seized 131 firearms and 404 pounds, 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.

    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 so they can prove they have explicit consent to enter.

    Maj. Santos Cadena, a task force supervisor, said the key to knock-and-talk arrests is for officers to be kind.

    "One thing we emphasize throughout their training is to be professional and be respectful because not all the complaints are going to be valid complaints," Cadena said. "That goes a long way with suspects who are criminally involved in activities. They take that professional interaction, that courtesy, and that sort of opens the door for us."

    Critics have raised concerns about privacy and officer safety.

    Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said she worries "that when police try to take a shortcut and proceed without a warrant, there's too much opportunity for abuse."

    But the courts have ruled that knock-and-talks are legal, said John Worrall, a criminal justice professor at the University of Texas at Dallas.

    "Consent is one of law enforcement's most valuable tools," he said. "People don't often know that they have the right to refuse consent."

    Brown has shifted the narcotics division's focus since he took over in 2010 by reducing the number of undercover officers who buy drugs from dealers and drug houses and then use the purchases to get warrants.