Durham police officers have been barred from using fake 911 calls as an excuse to search a person's home after a local police chief learned the tactic was being used to target individuals with outstanding warrants.
"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," Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez said in a memo to his officers last week, North Carolina's Indy Week reported
"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."
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The unscrupulous tactic used by at least one officer came to light during a May 27 court hearing. Officer A.B. Beck had in February arrived at the defendant's home in South-Central Durham, and knocked on her door. He informed her that a 911 hang-up call had emanated from her home, and that he wanted to search the premises to make sure they were secure.
The defendant agreed, and allowed the officer in. There he found two marijuana blunt cigarettes and a marijuana nugget grinder, and issued citations to the defendant.
According to the defendant's lawyer, during the hearing, the officer testified that his original intent was to serve a warrant, but didn't produce said warrant. He said that under department policy the 911 ruse was permitted in certain cases.
"You cannot enter someone's house based on a lie," Marcia Morey, chief district judge for Durham County, was quoted saying from the bench.
It was determined the defendant couldn't truly consent when a lie was involved, and the charges were therefore dropped.
It is unclear why or how Beck came to the conclusion that the 911 tactic was acceptable department policy. A police spokesperson said "the department is looking into that."
Durham’s City Manager Tom Bonfield is also looking into the allegations, according to The Washington Times
"If confirmed that this tactic was used, the city manager agrees that it is entirely unacceptable," said a city spokesperson on Bonfield's behalf. "This tactic is not a policy, nor an acceptable practice of the department for any reason."
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