Gangs love parties, and noise complaints will arise. Investigators: This is an opportunity. (Photo iStock)
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Every cop that works in a gang unit or that responds to calls that involve gang members know that gangsters aren’t concerned with being good neighbors. They don’t look at their watch at 10 p.m. and say, “Maybe we should turn the music off because our neighbors need to work in the morning.” Police officers assigned to gang units on evening shifts often get the “gangster party” call: loud music keeping the neighborhood awake, possibly even spill over fights in the street, people running through backyards, cars driving erratically in the area, gun shots heard—almost anything can happen when you get a large group of gang members together.
The first challenge can be remaining professional as the conduct of gangster party attendees at some of these events can easily challenge an officer’s patience. They are often drunk, high on drugs and generally combative. This can sometimes result officers losing focus and improperly responding. Improperly handled, loud parties can result in unnecessary use of force incidents, highly contested prosecutions, as well as civil law suits against the department or citizen complaints being filed against officers. In fact this may happen even if you do everything correctly. However, if policy and law are followed, complaints are often unfounded.
Gang members love to have parties. Sometimes these parties are known in advance; other times they aren’t. For example, many gangs have a special day for their specific gang, a gang celebration day to commemorate a special event unique to that gang. If you keep tabs on the gangs, you should be able to discern patterns.
For example, in San Diego the 5/9 Brims gang have a big party on May 9th, the Neighborhood Crips celebrate by having a party on April 7th or "47" because the gang claims 47th Street; or a white supremacist may celebrate on April 20th to remember Hitler’s birthday. They also celebrate on normal holidays as well, such as Cinco de Mayo and Independence Day.
Many times party flyers and announcements are posted on social network sites and your informants can keep you informed of upcoming parties. As a gang investigator you must be prepared to handle these calls.
Other times gangsters simply crash legitimate parties and intimidate the host into allowing them to stay. Often the host will not object to police shutting down the party.
Fielding the Call
Often, the initial gang party call is an infraction or misdemeanor crime at best. Knowing your legal authority at a loud party is critical to a proper resolution of these incidents.
One of the standard elements of a typical gangster party call is the loud and unreasonable noise that is bothering someone other than the police. Most people that call the police to report a loud gang party don’t want to get involved. They simply want to sleep in peace and not suffer any retaliation as a result of making the call. For an officer to be able to make an arrest solely for the loud music they must determine if the loud party complaint was supported by sufficient probable cause. When officers arrive is the music loud?
Most dispatchers ask the standard question of noise complaint callers: “Are you willing to sign a complaint?” A “complaint” is the document that initiates a criminal prosecution against the party host and it is the person who signs the document is technically the one making the arrest. The best policy is to have the dispatcher determine from the outset whether he/she is in fact prepared to make a citizen’s arrest if the loud music continues to disturb his/her peace. Having this information from the start will put you in a better position to assess your options.
From a police perspective it is better to do this via phone, that way gangsters at the party are not alerted to who the reporting party is. If there’s a way you can make contact with the reporting party without signaling to the gangsters who has called, and you believe it is safe to do so, you may want to consider doing this. This allows you to hear the noise from their perspective. This may also provide additional information about the party location that will be useful to your overall assessment of the situation, such as it is a chronic gang hangout; they also sell dope out of the garage; they have two mean pit bulls in the back yard; etc.
Contacting the Party
Because of the potential for danger, have multiple units converge on these calls. Select one officer to be the primary contact person. This avoids the risk of giving conflicting requests of the party host. The first goal at the party residence is to try to gain the cooperation of the party host and eliminate the noise. Secondary goals may include figuring out who is in the crowd to make arrests for probation or parole violations, weapons violations, drug violations, alcohol violations, etc.
Many times when the contact and cover officers arrive, the door may already be open or a garage door is open or a side gate leading to the rear yard is open. It’s important to remember that there are only three ways a police officer can normally gain lawful entry into another person’s residence (and that includes all areas within the curtilage of the residence not subject to public access, such as rear yards).
These include the proper service of a search or arrest warrant, the free and voluntary giving of consent by a person reasonably believed to have the authority to do so, or exigent or emergency circumstance sufficient to excuse the need for a warrant. Without one of these elements, do not just walk into the house.
You are likely to be heavily outnumbered if/when you go into the house (or into the non-public portions of the curtilage such as the backyard) and your presence in these locations could lead to conflicts. Think carefully about your tactics and ensure it appears necessary to resolve some genuine issue related to the call itself immediately. You may consider calling more officers to assist prior to making contact.
One suggestion for your approach to a party is to have the contact officer deal with the contact, while secondary officers look beyond the contact. These officers should look as deep into the home or yard as possible. Many times the person you are contacting is trying to buy time for the real bad guys to escape or discard contraband. Focus on the people that appear to be trying to get away from you, the ones yelling the police are here, the ones that quickly jump fences and disappear in bushes or behind objects to get away or out of view. These are likely the people holding the guns and other weapons that are at the party. You have a better chance of getting hit by lightning while cashing in you lottery ticket than responding to a party with gangsters present where no guns are present. You have to be on your game to find them.
Entering the Party
There is nothing that prevents a police officer from asking for lawful consent to enter. If granted, you’d be permitted to do so. Ensure, if you do obtain consent, it's from someone who reasonably appears to have the authority to do so, what prosecutors call standing.
This would generally be someone who lives at the residence and not an invited guest. To help ensure you are dealing with a resident (in the absence of identification), consider confirming that fact with others who are present. You can also ask the person for his address. Most residents will be able to give it without hesitation whereas most guests will either have to think about it or will not be able to provide it.
What happens if you knock on the door, someone opens it, sees it’s the police and immediately closes it? One thing you should not do is stick your flashlight in the door to prevent its closure. That’s an entry into the residence and (absent an exigent or emergency circumstance) an illegal one. What you should do is simply let it close and knock again. I can virtually assure you the same person will not answer it twice. At a large party someone else will most likely respond and the next person may be more cooperative. What’s more, this approach will always remain legal and reasonable. Remember: This is still probably only a misdemeanor offense at this point.
What if no one opens the door? The Fourth Amendment only protects against unreasonable searches. A minimal intrusion to investigate the ongoing disturbance of the public’s peace would seem reasonable under the circumstances. But I’m not a lawyer. The key is to articulate the facts that explain your actions.
Contacting the Host
When handling loud music complaints, advance warnings probably represent a more practical starting point in most cases. The initial warning relates to the often called a first response notice. This notice carries potential monetary sanctions if violated. When giving this warning to the party host, an officer will verbally explain the potential consequences and will also provide a copy of the completed written notice containing the same information. If officers subsequently have to return to the loud party, the specified costs are subject to potential recovery through civil or administrative actions.
I also suggest that you have your officers offer to close the party down if the host states that they can’t preserve the peace. Most of the time, the party host will decline this offer. However, in some cases the party was crashed by gangsters that may not have been invited, and the host wants them gone as bad as we do. The choice they ultimately make is irrelevant. What is relevant is that you're trying to give helpful advice and you are continuing to maintain a reasonable response. Many times the notice is given, the music is turned down and the police leave.
Recall to Residence
If officers have to return to the party because the music continues to disturb the peace of citizens in the neighborhood; if the responsible person has been given the appropriate warnings; if the person making the complaint desires to arrest and prosecute; you can effect an arrest. This will usually result in the party being closed down, which the crowd often takes exception to. They may challenge the police and begin to throw rocks, bottles or other items at the police.
In trying to disperse the crowd and eliminate the problem, we often see arrests for assaults on officers, interfering with an officer in the performance of his duties or battery on a police officer. Ultimately, any such decision would have to be made on the particular facts confronting officers at the time. I simply want you to think about your circumstances and be satisfied you can justify an emergency situation before entering those areas of residential property that wouldn't ordinarily be accessible by the public.
Gang parties are a nuisance and disrupt the tranquility in a neighborhood. When responding to these calls, remember they have tremendous potential to be a positive or a negative. They are positive in that a member of the community has taken the initiative to step up and report the gangsters; they deserve a quality response that eliminates the disturbance. It’s also a gold mine of potential intelligence. One gang party response can link dozens of gang members together and can result in arrests for a wide variety of violations. They're a potential negative in that, when not handled correctly, officers can get injured, complaints generated, law suits filed, evidence lost, cases dropped and gangsters that do not get held accountable for their crimes. The key is to be as safe as possible and use common sense.