Police in Richmond, Va., have announced an initiative for officers on the midnight shift to inspect parked vehicles and then knock on the door of the owner’s home during the 12 a.m. to 4 a.m. time period “for an unexpected wakeup call” if they discover a situation that would lend itself to theft or vandalism.
But a civil-rights organization says the policy treads on citizens’ constitutional rights and, moreover, could create a dangerous situation for both the citizen and the police officer.
“The recent Trayvon Martin incident from Florida should serve as a stark warning of how the fear and misunderstanding of a homeowner can turn a benign situation into a tragedy involving loss of life,” John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, said in a letter to Richmond police chief Bryan Norwood.
“Except in the most compelling of circumstances, the Richmond police should avoid intrusions that create this kind of danger to themselves and residents,” he wrote of the city police plan to teach residents not to leave valuables in sight in a parked vehicle.
A spokesman for the police department today told WND that officials likely would have no comment on the program or the letter from Whitehead.
Whitehead said the initiative not only is “a misguided effort to curb property crimes that will primarily alienate residents of the city, but the initiative infringes upon the Fourth Amendment rights of citizens to privacy and to be free of unreasonable police intrusions.”
“While police officers do not necessarily violate the prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures by approaching a residence, knocking on the door and asking to speak with the occupants, the right of police to come upon a walkway, entranceway or porch of a residence is not absolute,” he said.
He said the “wakeup call” “wholly exceeds and abuses the idea of “implied consent,” which allows “this kind of encroachment by police upon the curtilage of a residence.”
The law allows police to come onto a property for legitimate purposes, but also it should be “during reasonable times of the day,” he said.
The city program “is by definition unreasonable and beyond the scope of the implied consent that might exist during daytime and early evening hours. The Fourth Amendment condemns this kind of middle-of-the-night intrusion by government officials, which is reason enough to end this misguided initiative.”
But beyond the issue of rights is the concern about safety, Whitehead said.
“There can be little doubt that a police officer’s late-night knock on a resident’s door may spark a violent confrontation with an alarmed resident who could certainly believe that any intrusion at his or her resident at that time poses a danger.
“There are certainly other means available to the Richmond police to serve the goals of the “Wakeup Call” initiative without invading the privacy and security of homeowners. The owners of vehicles observed to have valuables could be sent letters, thereby avoid a risky early morning encounter with police,” Whitehead wrote.
A report by Richmond’s WTVR-TV said Lt. Brian Corrigan came up with the idea after a recent wave of car break-ins.
He was blunt in his response to the station regarding concerns that residents would be contacted between midnight and 4 a.m.
“I’m not really concerned about the inconvenience,” he told the station. “For what you will go through with having to call your insurance company, being late for work, having a shattered window, and the expense of replacing those items that are being stolen, it’s just a whole lot easier (to get an overnight knock).”