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Door-to-Door Solicitors-- To Answer Or Not To Answer? And The Risks

Friendly peek...or casing for a burglary?
Friendly peek...or casing for a burglary?

It’s the holidays, and that means that scammers, thieves and burglars are making the rounds. Unfortunately, crimes of opportunity related to personal property crimes can easily escalate into more violent crimes.

Home Invasion robberies are becoming more common. Just recently, a Covina family is victimized a little after noon when a man invades their home. The father answers a knock at the door. He is bum-rushed and then isolated in another room, tied up, and the home is burglarized. Both he and his young daughter are then shot.

The LAT’s is reporting that on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Reality TV writer/director James Marcus Howe and his wife were inside their Glassell Park home when an apparent  salesman knocked on the door.

The story reports that Howe and his wife approached the front door observing one man standing alone. According to police, another man and a woman immediately forced their way in.

Apparently, the altercation escalates. One of the male assailants brandishes a handgun. Mr. Howe is shot. He dies at the scene. His wife is also shot. She is rushed to the hospital, seriously wounded. Their 6-year-old son is present but physically unharmed.

According to the LAT’s story, LAPD Deputy Chief Jose Perez stated that “The victims were completely innocent. There is nothing to connect them with the assailants."

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-glassell-park-fatal-shooting-20131205,0,1864909.story#ixzz2mijroW3u

I addressed the issue of answering door-to-door salesmen in an earlier post. This is a revised post that is still relevant.

The days of door-to-door solicitors are a thing of the past-- at least as far as opening the door to them.  For sure, solicitors will argue that they’re entitled to engage in their activities. And some are. But I ask these important follow up questions.

Will they be there when you are robbed, assaulted, or murdered by a person posing as a door-to-door solicitor?

Will they indemnify you for you losses?

Once these hard questions are posed, the “vested interest” party usually defensively retorts, “It must be horrible to live in fear.”

Another common refrain often advanced is-- “Home Invasions are not that common.”

Both positions are fallacious arguments meant to bolster a complete stranger’s perceived right to enter your space, usually private property, in an attempt to make a profit or to solicit a donation.

The actual reality is much clearer. Just because a person practices common sense and exercises a higher degree of caution, this does not automatically make that individual paranoid or overly fearful of life.

What it does is make them Street Smart.

Back in the day-- actually my parent’s day-- it was not uncommon for individuals, mostly males, to travel around the country selling things. The Fuller Brush Man immediately comes to mind. But, that was 60 years ago. Things have changed considerably. Mayberry is no longer a reality. The fact is that it’s just too dangerous these days to willingly risk exposure to personal assault and perhaps death merely because you’ve opened your door to a stranger selling or requesting something.

Some individuals may feel the choice to ignore the knock on the door is just too harsh a treatment for a person eking out a living or acting charitable. Others may think the choice to limit contact with a stranger is unfounded paranoia.

Fact-- there are bad guys out there who make a business out of doing bad things to good people.

Police officers can legally detain, investigate, Field ID, cite and arrest door-to-door solicitors for selling or asking for donations without the proper city-issued permits.  

The rules door-to-door solicitors must follow are found under most local Municipal Codes.

For example, in the City of Los Angeles, they are found in Chapter IV, "Public Welfare," Article 1, "Disorderly Conduct Places And Publications," Section 41.43.1. Specifically under "Door To Door Selling Or Soliciting." 

Whatever the local regulations may be, they generally restrict the hours one is permitted to lawfully solicit. Usually during the hours between 8:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. of the following day, solicitation is illegal.

There are also age restrictions, as well as additional safeguards for children under 10.

A government or educational institution photo ID with birthdate is usually required. And, typically that form of photo identification must be presented upon the request of any persons being solicited, and to any peace officer or other person charged with the enforcement of the laws pertaining to such solicitations.

An original or a copy of the Business Tax Registration Certificate is also normally required.

The main guidelines are basically the possession of a proper photo ID; possession of a valid business tax license; adhering to the correct hours for sales; and, presenting the photo ID and tax license when requested.

With respect to philanthropic door-to-door solicitations, there are usually specific guidelines that also must be adhered to.

Critics often argue that the government is overly intrusive, acting as a Nanny State, smothering free market competition by limiting commerce, and stymieing capitalism by introducing restrictive mandates.

They also forget to mention that properly licensed and permitted door-to-door solicitors add to the tax base and help support the infrastructure of the city they operate in. Additionally, the rules and procedures are enacted to both limit “panhandling scams” as well as to provide a measure of safety for the public.

Legitimate solicitors have ID’s. They are registered with Law Enforcement agencies. They are held accountable for their actions. They must adhere to specific hours and days of operation. They must provide supervision and protection for any children working for them. It is all very basic and beneficial both for the public and the solicitors.

If it wasn’t viewed as a nuisance and a public safety problem, there would not be guidelines.

Many unlicensed, non-permitted door-to-door solicitors are from out-of-state or from out of the immediate area. They travel extensively working their way across the country. Some have extensive arrest records. Some have outstanding arrest warrants. Some have bad intentions because they are using the pretense of door-to-door sales as a ruse to gain access to vulnerable people.

A recent ruse used in Glendale, CA was simple. Sell a magazine subscription and sweeten the deal by offering the buyer a chance to win a trip to Italy. Basically, it is the old dangle the bait and wait for the fish to rise MO.

Not all the residents of North Glendale were biting. An alert citizen called the police. This allowed the Glendale Police Department to also go fishing. Glendale PD's catch for the day-- four arrests.

One salesman is carrying an illegal butterfly knife.  One man is on probation for robbery. He also has an outstanding arrest warrant from San Jose. The third man gives police a false name, a crime. He is arrested for selling magazines without a permit. The fourth man, arrested later, is also nabbed for the permit violation. He is on probation for grand theft. He has two outstanding warrants.

Other than that-- these gentlemen are apparently outstanding citizens just earning a living.

Knowing what you do now would you willingly open your door to them?

All criticisms and debates aside, this is exactly the problem. People you do not know are knocking on your door. They are strangers. Common sense dictates you do not expose yourself to unnecessary risk by opening the door.

Unfortunately, this once common practice is just too risky these days.

It is much more than the fact that unless the product is in front of your eyes, open to immediate inspection, you are not guaranteed the goods being sold to you will be delivered as promised. The most important aspect of this “open--don’t open” the door dilemma is that you don’t actually know who you’re dealing with.

What is their background? What are their true intentions? What is their present state of mind?

My encounter is with AT&T salesmen. They come to my gate after 8 P.M. That in itself is illegal. Secondly, although they eventually do ID’d themselves verbally, they present no photo ID. They carry no business permit.

Why should I believe them?

And, more importantly, why should I even have to be put in the position to have to believe them?

I decide to contact AT&T and have these two questions answered.

It's an ordeal to get information, but I persist. I’m offended AT&T is sending salesmen to my door. I’m already a customer. They already call my home trying to get me to upgrade. They send me literature trying to get me to upgrade. Now they’re sending salesmen to my home trying to get me to upgrade.

Just as I opt out of computer "Cookies," and I am on the "Do Not Call" telemarketing registry for my Land-line and my Cell Phones, I want the option to opt out of AT&T's door-to-door salesmen.

I'm not sure what AT&T is doing is even legal because they’re selling a service door-to-door without delivering the service or product immediately.

I wade through two customer service representatives, a supervisor, a transfer to marketing-- which results in a return to the main menu, and all of the button pushing this requires to get back to a customer service representative.

Then I’m conveniently disconnected.

Eventually, I get through to the "legal-fraud" department. Apparently, I finally use the right words.

I discover the first customer service representative misdirects me. Although, she does confirm through her supervisor that salespeople are in the field trying to push upgraded services to existing customers and that’s why my residence was “selected.” I prefer the more precise word-- “targeted.”  She then provides me a phone number assuring me this will take me off the contact list.

She lied!

It’s the "Do Not Call" registry for telemarketers. I'm already on that list-- three times.  Not to mention that it has absolutely nothing to do with stopping door-to-door solicitors.

I persist and call again. This time I’m not so nice. I demand they record my conversation for “Quality Control Purposes.” That seems to freak them out. I am immediately transferred.

Finally, a nice AT&T Fraud Investigator from the Fresno office understands what I want. He adds me to the "Do Not Contact" list. Mainly, because he understands that a salesman representing AT&T-- a total stranger to me-- with no photo identification and apparently no business permit-- is bothering me at my home.

When I ask him why they are sending out door-to-door salesmen, the investigator states-- "They send out flyers, but people just throw them away." 

Obviously AT&T thinks people are uninformed consumers, and they have decided to bother people at their homes in order to increase profits.

This is exactly why they make fences and lockable gates; because access is everything.

Obviously not everyone is "bad" who comes to your door selling or asking for something. That's not the point. The concern is undue exposure to unnecessary risk.

Exactly how do you know what you’re facing until you’re exposed?

You don't.

So the real question is:

Are you willing to take a chance with you and your family's safety for the sake of not offending, not engaging in conversation, or not conducting a blind transaction with a stranger who knocks on your door and who may or may not be a legitimate, respectable, hardworking door-to-door solicitor?"

It makes more sense to stick with traditional methods for purchasing products and to not expose oneself to unnecessary risk.

That’s my humble opinion based upon experience, education, research, and employment history. For me, it’s more than an intolerance for interruption at an inconvenient time; or the irritation of being bothered at my home by a stranger selling me something I’m not interested in.

Although I do enjoy my privacy, I also like to maintain a safe environment.

Most people are not aware that without a fence, locked gates, and visibly posted “No Trespassing” signs, with the appropriate Municipal Code noted, anyone can legally enter your yard-- even rummage through your trash. All the police can do is come when called-- if they have time since it’s not a high priority call. They then ask you to ask the individual to leave. If the individual leaves, there is no crime. Only if he refuses to leave after both you and then a police officer requests it will the PD advise you to initiate a private party trespassing arrest.

This is again why fences and lockable gates are important. For a criminal intent upon committing a crime, access is everything.

Don't think for a moment Home Invasion robberies do not occur. They do, and often with violent outcomes. They happen more often than you think. In fact, criminals sometimes dress as delivery persons or pose as utility workers and meter readers.  Some criminals follow people home from stores, banks, or work. They specifically target them because they believe they have valuables. Some instances of Home Invasion are crimes of opportunity, more or less random in nature.

So do we live life in constant fear?

No. That’s not the intent of this information.

However, when possible, it is essential to properly identify individuals accessing your property and who are attempting to make close personal contact with you. It is important to determine if they’re legitimate and conducting lawful business.

How can that be accomplished?

If you feel uneasy or mistrustful, a simple phone call to the business the person is representing can satisfy the identity requirement. If the person is truly legitimate and genuinely conducting business, they will not mind the wait. When unsure of a situation, it is best to defer to your instincts.

Why are you unsure?

Pay attention to the warning signals. Remember, just because someone knocks on your door doesn't mean you are required to open it. If the matter-at-hand is really all that important, the individual will leave a card or a notice.

The fact is that sophisticated burglars sometimes "recon" by door-knocking.

So what do you do?

If you open the door to a stranger, you expose yourself to risk. If you don’t respond to the door-knock, you risk a break-in while you are present.  A “Hot-Prowl” is considered a high risk situation by law enforcement professionals. If you respond, at least you let the individual know someone is present.

It’s a true dilemma.

And once again that's why they make fences, lockable gates, breed and train personal protection dogs, install alarm systems, and manufacture weapons.

However, not everyone wants to, has the ability or training to, or the finances to take advantage of the above solutions.

What's the solution?

Police suggest letting the person knocking know someone is present. However, they do not recommend opening the door to strangers. If the individual gets aggressive or attempts to gain unlawful entry, calling 911 and retreating to a "Safe Room" is a reasonable course of action.

A Safe Room requires a lockable door so that it provides some measure of security until police arrive. Be aware that a digitally operated Land-line phone may not operate if the electrical power is disconnected. A Cell Phone or an old fashioned analog type phone will still provide 911 access if the electrical power is cut. A Cell Phone will provide 911 service if the residence’s phone line is cut, a digital or analog Land-line phone will not.

Unfortunately, response times to calls for emergency police service are not always timely. It depends upon where the patrol unit is responding from; traffic conditions; how many patrol units are deployed; how many simultaneous calls for emergency service there are, and the severity of the incident being reported.

For example, an officer-involved "shooting-in-progress" call will take precedent over a "theft from vehicle" call. A "suspicious person" call will be answered more slowly than a 459-Burglary "Hot Prowl" call. Unless luck is on your side, I'd estimate at least 5-7 minutes for a patrol unit to show up to an emergency.

Ask yourself this important question. Are you willing to risk your safety to answer the door for a stranger and then wait for help-- if you can even summon it?

The decision whether to open your door to strangers and to support door-to-door solicitors is ultimately a personal one. The information provided should give you an indication when it is appropriate to contact the police, or if you even want to. Obviously dialing 911 because a door-to-door solicitor is standing on your door step is rather extreme without gathering more information. However, a call to your local area patrol officer for a friendly "Heads-up" regarding a door-to-door solicitor working the area might be perfectly appropriate.

In the end, the police cannot be everywhere. Crimes happen, sometimes with deadly consequences. That’s an unavoidable fact. However, it is the alert, informed, and involved citizen who is the "eyes and ears" of the community and who often helps to deter crime.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

TT December 11, 2013 at 10:41 AM
Some of the unmentioned problems are that if you are alert, and see suspicious activity, you run the risk of being called racist for reporting it. Another problem is that the media keeps lying about those committing these crimes. They would rather lie than have the public know a perp's description, which is a powerful tool to use be safe.
Gerald Elekes December 11, 2013 at 01:48 PM
@TT. I'm pretty sure the PD Dispatcher doesn't care what race a criminal is as far as profiling goes when they take the initial call for service? In fact, they ask for a detailed suspect description since it helps responding officers quickly ID a perpetrator, and it contributes greatly to maintaining "officer safety." However, in general, I get what you're saying. As for the media, I do notice some publications have instituted a "policy" regarding not providing a suspect's Identifiers. It can be disturbing when a violent crime has been committed locally but one only gets a gender, height, weight and clothing description. That leaves out a very important descriptor that could be useful for the public in ID-ing and perhaps helping the PD apprehend a suspect. Political correctness can be insidious and non-beneficial as we attempt to embrace the better aspects of cultural diversity. I find it very interesting reading other publications from other locals, particularly out-of-state and up in Northern California. They not only put out a full description, but upon arrest, they actually post other signifiers, such as full name, address, and crimes committed. They also follow up with even more data when convicted. It is very useful when compiling demographic facts, and it puts a spotlight on the criminal element.
TT December 12, 2013 at 11:59 AM
@Gerald, thank you for your post. You're right, the police don't care about race. But others do. And media people with agendas, filtering information for us is incredibly dangerous. People have died because of it. The media should provide all of the facts and tools available so that society can use them to be safe. What's humorous is the very fact that putting so much effort into their agenda proves their agenda to be wrong in the first place. If it were legitimate, it would require no effort at all. Have a Merry Christmas.

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