Charlottesville, Va. — Warning against the coercive use of “knock and talks” by police as a means of sidestepping the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against warrantless, unreasonable searches, The Rutherford Institute has issued constitutional guidelines to alert the public to this aggressive, increasingly popular police tactic and what Americans can do to preserve their constitutional rights. In the wake of court rulings that allow police to make surprise, late-night “visits” to homes, purportedly for the purpose of “talking” with residents, the use of “knock and talks” by law enforcement agencies has exploded, with some police departments establishing squads dedicated to conducting “knock and talks.”
“The protective barriers erected by the founders to ensure that ‘we the people’ are secure within our homes continue to be battered, shattered and bulldozed by an obnoxious array of court rulings, legislative actions, surveillance technology and police tactics that empower government agents to not only invade the privacy of our homes but to also destroy our property and terrorize our loved ones,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “Although courts have embraced the fiction that ‘knock and talks’ are ‘voluntary’ encounters that are no different from door-to-door canvassing by Girl Scouts in the middle of the day, these constitutionally dubious tactics are highly threatening confrontations meant to intimidate individuals into allowing police access to a home, which then paves the way for a warrantless search of the home and property.”
As the government continues to chip away at the protection of individual privacy established by the U.S. Constitution, particularly the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures, “knock and talk” tactics have gained popularity with police throughout the nation. In practice, “knock and talks” are often executed like a SWAT team raid. Multiple police come to the door, often in tactical gear with sidearms prominently displayed and sometimes drawn, demonstrating overwhelming force. These “visits” also occur at late-night or early-morning hours when home-owners would not expect visitors. Police will loudly bang on the door, while failing to identify themselves. The procedures employed are calculated to maximize the surprise of and coercion upon the occupants of the home in order to avoid the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment and obtain incriminating evidence against the residents. However, these aggressive tactics have also resulted in numerous injuries and deaths in cases where citizens, believing themselves to be the victims of a home invasion, have responded defensively. For example, in a knock and talk incident gone awry, an innocent Florida man was gunned down by police who pounded aggressively on the wrong door at 1:30 a.m., failed to identify themselves as police, and then repeatedly shot and killed the man when he answered the door while holding a gun in self-defense.