[imgr=white]http://www.dallasnews.com/incoming/20130825-nm_myrtlehouse.jpg.ece/ALTERNATES/w320/NM_MyrtleHouse.jpg[/imgr]Police say Shelton Green and Crashunda Wrenn had plenty to hide.
Specifically: 82 credit cards, 55 driver’s licenses and ID cards, 39 Social Security cards, 16 personal checks, six Medicare cards and three passports, according to an affidavit.
After officers received a tip about the South Dallas house where the items were stashed, all they had to do was knock on the door and ask nicely to go inside, police say.
Officials say the case is an example of how a 3-month-old “knock-and-talk” task force finds criminals.
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.
[imgl=white]http://www.dallasnews.com/incoming/20130825-knockandtalk.eps.ece/BINARY/w620x413/knockandtalk.eps[/imgl]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.
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.
Niceness is the key
Based on neighbors’ complaints, police thought they were checking on a drug house in July when Green and Wrenn let them into the house in the 3900 block of Myrtle Street.
But now police think Green is a member of the Felony Lane Gang, which is suspected in about 200 vehicle break-ins across North Texas. Gang members have been accused of stealing purses, wallets and other valuables in high-traffic areas such as shopping mall parking lots.
Green and Wrenn, his girlfriend, have been indicted on charges of identity theft. Green, who was also charged with unlawful possession of a weapon, remains in jail. Wrenn has been released on bail.
Maj. Santos Cadena, a task force supervisor, said the key to knock-and-talk arrests such as the couple’s 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,” he 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
Such warrantless searches often make civil libertarians squeamish.
Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director of the ACLU 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.”
Smith said people agree to searches the majority of the time.
Change in tactics
The knock-and-talk task force was Chief David Brown’s idea, Smith said.
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.
Brown did not respond to requests for comment, but he said during a March 2011 Dallas Morning News editorial board meeting that the department should focus most of its drug investigations on high-level crimes.
“We feel we were upside-down in our narcotics efforts here, where most of our narcotics resources were committed to street-level crime,” he said.
The shift in strategy caused strife among narcotics officers who think the best way to eliminate drug houses is to make undercover drug purchases.
Texas Narcotic Officers Association executive director Gilbert S. Gonzalez declined to comment on Dallas police tactics, saying local departments know what is best for them. But the strategy fits a trend, he said.
“A lot of the law enforcement investigative techniques are turning more toward long-term investigations” rather than focusing on small-time dealers, he said.
The Dallas Morning News
Published: 25 August 2013 10:51 PM
Updated: 25 August 2013 11:14 PM
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