The “Knock and Talk” Police Technique (i.e. Consent Search)admin
A couple months into working, we started to hear rumors of another team that was engaged in some rather unscrupulous practices. We were told that a team of four white detectives would utilize a technique called “Knock and Talk” in a fashion that raised concerns. “Knock and Talk” refers to knocking on the door of a residence and engaging the occupants in a conversation that leads to requesting their permission to conduct a warrantless search of the premises. Otherwise known as a “consent search.” We were told that this team was targeting the homes of older and elderly Black women for drug searches. They would appear at an older woman’s front door, donned in extremely intimidating tactical raid gear. They would give the impression that the occupant had no choice other than to consent to the search or face charges of obstruction. They would also suggest that if they weren’t allowed entry, they would secure a warrant and come back to ransack the home searching for drugs. They would commonly use the concocted excuse that the woman’s son or grandson had been selling drugs out of her home. Often times, the women wouldn’t even have a son or grandson, but that wouldn’t stop them from making entry anyway.
I couldn’t believe what we were being told, so our team decided to verify the allegation. We monitored the rogue team’s radio traffic and listened for key indications that would perhaps tip their hand. Late into the night, we finally got a hit. When we heard them ask dispatch to hold them out on a routine Knock and Talk, we immediately proceeded to their given location. They had been there for only a couple of minutes by the time we arrived, but they had already begun their search of the premises. They were visibly shocked to see us when we stepped onto the porch area. Primarily, because word of my memo had gotten around the unit… That, coupled with my surmounting reputation on the department as being a trouble making, snitching militant… I pulled the team leader aside and advised him that my team was there to provide additional security for his team. I asked if the woman had given consent for the ongoing search. He said that she had. I then asked if she had also been instructed on her right to withdraw her consent at any time during the search. Again, he said she had. “Ok. Great!” I said. Then I made eye contact and summoned for her to join us in our conversation.
I asked the elderly woman in front of the detective, “Ma’am, did any one of these officers ask for your permission to search your house?” She said they had. I asked “Ma’am, did you give them permission to search your house?” She said she had, but only because they indicated that she didn’t have a choice, and that she would go to jail if she refused. At this point, my blood was beginning to boil. I could imagine my own mother being subjected to this type of treatment at the hands of Detroit Police. The idea that anyone would be subjected to this type of treatment by the very people who are supposed to be protecting them was downright sickening to me. I went on to ask if she had been advised by anyone that she had a legal right to take back her consent at any time she wanted. She said that she had not been so advised. I asked her one last question with the detective still standing there. “Ma’am, do you want to take back your consent to this search at this time?” I asked. “What do you mean? What will happen?” she asked. “Well, ma’am, if you take back your consent, by law, we have to stop searching and leave your house” I assured her. I could clearly see in her face the fear of going to jail if she didn’t cooperate with the search. So I attempted to put her at ease one more time and reiterated that she would not be facing criminal charge for asking us to leave. She said “well in that case, yes, I would like to take back my consent, and I want you all to leave my house.” Once she uttered those words, the other members of my team dispersed to the other rooms in the house to advise the other detectives that the consent had been rescinded, and it was time to vacate the premises. We hung around until we were sure the other team was gone, and then we headed back to our assigned area.
We all knew we would have a large bulls-eye on our backs the rest of the time we were assigned to the unit. That was of no real concern since we had no intentions of working with anyone outside of our team anyway. We just didn’t trust the integrity or agendas of anyone outside of our circle. When we returned to the precinct at the end of shift, we were ushered into a room by one of the sergeants. We were asked about what transpired earlier. We gave our side of the story. After hearing what we had to say, we were each given a copy of disciplinary charges. We were all charged with endangering the lives of the other officers. The working theory was that our team had placed the other team in a dangerous situation by encouraging the homeowner to retract her consent. Technically, once her consent was rescinded, she would have been within her legal rights to grab her gun and defend herself against any further intrusion on our part. That was their idea of our team having endangered the rouge team. Nothing ever came of the charges. My guess is that when the case reached OPS, the Narcotics unit was most likely advised on how big a can of worms the case would open. The rogue officers were never addressed and allowed to continue their unethical and unconstitutional practices. Of course, many years later, the department suffered a scandal of international proportions involving an eerily similar incident that involved the Narcotics unit and the shooting death of an elderly Black woman (Ms. Kathryn Johnston) on the City’s northwest side… Zone 1.