On a Saturday morning at 6:45 a.m. there was a loud and persistent knock at my front door. It was a police officer, who was there to serve a no trespass order which had been filed maliciously as retaliation by an irresponsible individual whom I had had to evict from a property I own. (He has been caretaking the property rent free, and it is not his residence.)
When I came to the door to find out who was banging so loud, there was a tense moment during which I felt threatened not knowing who it could be, and tense because the officer did not know whether he was about to be confronted by a dangerous person.
When I realized that it was an officer, I opened the door and stepped outside. It was winter. When the officer saw that I was barely dressed and in my socks, he felt embarrassed, but at least the tension had been broken. He was polite, and apologetically explained that he was carrying out his duties. It was clear that he realized that the no trespass order had been filed in bad faith. Bad faith, because I had never even come to the apartment of the person who filed he complaint and the last time I had even been in the building where his lives was well over 20 years ago. In our conversation, the officer revealed to me that, because he was aware of the complainant’s character, he already suspected that the complaint was bogus.
The purpose of the no trespass order was to harass me.
Because it was served at 6:45 a.m. on a Saturday, with loud banging at my door, the intent to harass succeeded. I told the officer that he could have phoned me or left a note and I would have come to the police station to pick it up. In a very real way, the Brattleboro Police Department had allowed itself to be used for an illegitimate purpose. In fact the initial misunderstanding at the door could easily have escalated to to the point at which I might have been tasered. (I have had open heart surgery, and could be particularly vulnerable to high voltage shocks.)
Please do not tell me that I should have called the police department to verify whether the man banging at my door was an officer. At 6:45 a.m. in an upsetting situation, the burden of responsibility to think things out rationally and clearly should not be thrown onto a citizen who has been taken unawares: Rather there should be a written policy and training so that the police can do their job in a more sane way than it was done in the incident that I experienced. Perhaps the law allows anyone to take out a no-tresspass order against another person regardless of whether it is appropriate or not; and maybe the police have not choice but to serve. But clearly the manner in which such a notice is serve is within the power of the Brattleboro Police Department.
I understand that the notice might have been served at an early hour on a weekend in order because I would be more likely to be home at that hour. But shouldn’t extreme measures be taken not as a first resort, but only if really necessary? Why not leave a note asking the person to call the police department, and save the drama for only for those individuals who do not respond?
My question to the Brattleboro Police Department is: Will the Department’s senior leadership review police procedures for serving notices so that the police cannot be used as instruments for harassment, and to avoid creating unnecessary confrontational situations?”
You raise several valid concerns here. It seems that in this particular case a service that the police department provides may have been used by another citizen to harass you. That said, it is important to weigh the potential for inconvenience and annoyance against the truly legitimate duty of successfully serving no trespass orders.
Many people actively evade the police in an effort to avoid the service of paperwork such as a summons, subpoena, or no trespass order. As a result, officers will often attempt to make service earlier in the morning or in the later evening when citizens are likely to be home. Prior phone calls or other notifications are impractical. In many cases, this would result in evasive behavior by the subject of the paperwork and a failure of the police to serve the order.
The Brattleboro Police regularly take reports of trespassing and serve dozens of these orders every year. In fact, BPD took 340 such complaints in 2012. The majority of these complaints are legitimate. They may be based on a fear of personal injury, property damage, or other harassment that might be prevented with the service of a no trespass order to the suspected party.
The societal and governmental interest in serving these orders is significant. Unfortunately it can occasionally result in a mis-applied order or an upsetting interaction with the police, as seems to be the case here.
Regarding the review of policies, BPD’s command staff regularly reviews department policies and procedures seeking areas of improvement. They have been made aware of the circumstances you described above.
If you would like to discuss the specifics of your interaction with the police further, please do not hesitate to contact the department.
If you have a question for the Brattleboro Police Ask-a-Cop, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org and put “Ask-a-Cop” in the subject line.