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Police faked 9-1-1 phone calls to warrantlessly search homes

Published: July 12, 2014
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DURHAM, NC — A dubious police tactic has come to light, in which officers used falsified information in order to gain ‘consent’ to search private properties without a warrant.

Officers in Durham have apparently discovered that they can create the legal pretext for a search by lying about calls to 9-1-1 emergency services that never actually took place.  The tactic is apparently legal — and commonplace — according to an officer’s sworn statements.  WTVD-TV explains:

A Durham police officer admitted under oath that he lied in order to gain entry to a home and to serve an outstanding warrant.

During a court hearing last May, court officials say he told a District Court judge that it was a common practice within Durham’s police department.

He said he knocked on a resident’s door, claiming police had received a 9-1-1 hang up call. But, it never happened.

The tactic was pervasive enough for the Durham police chief to issue a department memo immediately calling for its disuse:

It has recently been brought to my attention that some officers have informed citizens that there has been a 911 hang-up call from their residence in order to obtain consent to enter for the actual purpose of looking for wanted persons on outstanding warrants. Effective immediately no officer will inform a citizen that there has been any call to the emergency communications center, including a hang-up call, when there in fact has been no such call.

– Jose L. Lopez, Sr., Chief of Police

Chief Lopez deserves credit for rejecting the practice within his department.  But the situation is troubling and raises many questions.  But how pervasive is the tactic elsewhere?  What can protect people in other jurisdictions from being searched using deception?

Is this one of those situations that qualifies as an “unreasonable search” which is prohibited under the 4th Amendment?

See more details regarding the Durham case via WTVD-TV:

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