A local police chief has ordered his officers to stop making up emergency phone calls in order to search homes without warrants.
Chief Jose Lopez of the Durham Police Department in North Carolina issued a strongly worded one-page memo last month after learning that some of his officers had used phony 911 hang-up calls as the basis for searching property without proper consent.
“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,” Lopez wrote in the memo obtained Thursday by TheBlot Magazine. “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.”
The memo was issued after a criminal case involving marijuana was tossed out in May. At a court hearing, a Durham police officer admitted to using the tactic in order to search the home of a woman where drugs were later discovered.
The officer, identified by a local newspaper as A.B. Beck, told the court that making up phony 911 calls is something that officers “always do” in order to gain entry to homes, claiming the practice was part of the police department’s official policy.
Lopez disputes this, telling local television station WRAL-TV that lying about 911 calls is not department policy.
“I just wanted to make sure that officers know that this is not a practice,” Lopez told WRAL. “This leads the community to believe that this is a practice that we have. It really is not.”
After the officer’s testimony, a defense attorney representing the accused on drug charges filed a motion to suppress the evidence, saying her client’s consent to enter her home was based on false premises.
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The judge agreed, tossing out the case and telling the officer “you cannot enter someone’s house based on a lie.”
Though Lopez referred to “some officers” in his memo, a police spokeswoman told TheBlot by e-mail on Wednesday that “as far we know, this [incident involving the officer] has been the only case.”
The department is now investigating why Beck believed the procedure was part of the department’s policy. It is unclear if the officer has been or will be disciplined.