Commander explains use of ‘warning’ prior to police raid
Editor’s note: In the Saturday, Sept. 29, edition, The Herald-Dispatch published a Viewpoints from Readers, a collection of online comments, about reactions to a raid last Thursday on a house in the 200 block of Gallaher Street in Huntington on suspicion of drug activity. It was the second time in about a month that the same house was raided.
Several readers raised questions about a police spokesman’s description of giving an occupant of the house a warning against any drug activity a few days prior to that first raid. In this guest column, Rocky Johnson, Special Investigations Bureau commander with the Huntington Police Department, speaks to that incident.
I’m writing to provide clarification of how drug crimes are investigated and why we utilize different techniques. The Special Investigations Bureau at the Huntington Police Department is committed to arresting those who are responsible for drug crimes in our city. This year, we have served 71 search warrants, made 134 felony and 48 misdemeanor arrests, and have obtained 60 felony indictments. For our department, this is the greatest number of search warrants executed and arrests made in a nine-month period.
Our primary mission is to stop the flow of drugs into the city and cut off the source of supply. We target mid-to upper-level drug dealers who move large quantities of drugs in our area. Although our mission is large-scale operations, there still exists a neighborhood nuisance property that needs attention. It is generally a small-scale operation with several individuals staying there with small amounts of drugs. These properties are the ones that can disrupt and bring blight to an entire neighborhood.
In both cases, we must act on probable cause rather than mere suspicion for us to do our job within legal boundaries. Probable cause is the basis for search and arrest warrants. We must operate within the parameters of the United States Constitution. In drug cases, we deal mainly with the Fourth Amendment — that you are free from unreasonable search and seizure — and the Fifth Amendment — that you have the right to avoid self-incrimination.
Sometimes, the police can act on reasonable suspicion, but the scope of that investigation is strictly limited. When probable cause is lacking but reasonable suspicion exists during a drug investigation, detectives can use a technique known as a knock and talk. It is exactly what it sounds like. Detectives knock on the door of a suspected drug house, generally a nuisance house, and attempt to contact somebody who lives there. The encounter has to be completely consensual and the property owner has no obligation to answer the door or engage in conversation. If contact is made, the detective tells the person the reason for being there and attempts to gather any information that may develop probable cause.
The detective is usually met with a strong denial of any criminal activity occurring. The detective will explain that if criminal activity is occurring it needs to stop or criminal charges could be forthcoming. This procedure is the “warning” I was referring to.
Sometimes, this is effective and the criminal activity stops. Other times, it doesn’t. I hope this clears up any confusion that may have been created. Let me be clear. If you are selling drugs or allowing drugs to be sold from your home in Huntington, you need to stop. If you don’t then our drug unit is going to do its best to put a case on you, develop probable cause, obtain a legal search warrant from a judge and kick in your door.
Rocky Johnson is Special Investigations Bureau commander with the Huntington Police Department.