I'm a cop, what's your question?

4 Replies

I've seen several others post on here that they are lawyers, or financial advisors, etc. and they're open to questions from anyone. I have received a lot of help from this site, so I figured I would offer the same if anyone has any questions. I have been in law enforcement for 14 years. This doesn't have to be real estate questions. I have met many people over the years that have basic questions because they never get a chance to have casual conversations with officers. I think the biggest hurdle today between law enforcement and civilians is that the average person has no idea what the job/life is like. That's not a fault on their part, it's a lack of information in the 1% of people and issues that we deal with daily that 90% of the population doesn't even know about or see.

So if you have any questions let me know, I'll be happy to answer them the best I can. I will not be giving any opinions on high profile media cases. Just here to provide incite and information in how law enforcement works, general procedures, how police think, why they do certain things, and maybe help in building conversation between police and citizens.

**I'm not here providing any legal advice or acting as a representative of any agency, only offering my person opinions and experience.**

Bill

Originally posted by @Bill Ward :

I've seen several others post on here that they are lawyers, or financial advisors, etc. and they're open to questions from anyone. I have received a lot of help from this site, so I figured I would offer the same if anyone has any questions. I have been in law enforcement for 14 years. This doesn't have to be real estate questions. I have met many people over the years that have basic questions because they never get a chance to have casual conversations with officers. I think the biggest hurdle today between law enforcement and civilians is that the average person has no idea what the job/life is like. That's not a fault on their part, it's a lack of information in the 1% of people and issues that we deal with daily that 90% of the population doesn't even know about or see.

So if you have any questions let me know, I'll be happy to answer them the best I can. I will not be giving any opinions on high profile media cases. Just here to provide incite and information in how law enforcement works, general procedures, how police think, why they do certain things, and maybe help in building conversation between police and citizens.

**I'm not here providing any legal advice or acting as a representative of any agency, only offering my person opinions and experience.**

Bill

Welcome. I appreciate what you guys do.

I know things change by jurisdiction, but basically when there is a squatter, why is the squatter sometimes removed from the premisis and sometimes determined to be a "legal matter" instead of a criminal matter?  That is, what constitutes "trespassing" vs "breaking & entering" vs the squatter being left alone after a call to police enforcement?

@Mike Hern sorry but I can't make this any shorter other than yes, jurisdiction matters apparently. From my experience this varies by jurisdiction (state and city by city as far as I can tell). As far as a random squatter such as a person taking up living in a random vacant house, I have never seen this. Other than a homeless people staying in an abandoned building. They obviously don't put up any fight and usually just run if someone comes around.

I'm in VA, for us as law enforcement to be able to do anything, the magistrate's, prosecutors, and judges all need to be on the same page on what's criminal and civil. Up until a couple of years ago at my previous city of employment, the answer for eviction there was "if they pay rent, have a verbal agreement to pay-even if they haven't paid yet, or contribute to the household financially" (think roommates, subleasing, renting rooms in your house, and the friend "can I stay on your couch for a week for $20") that was all said to fall under a landlord/tenant rule and so we always told people they needed to file an eviction if they wouldn't leave. From the magistrate's mouth, any agreement for housing in exchange for something = landlord/tenant. Regardless of actual leases. As police officers, we weren't allowed to enforce civil matters. Citizens are also allowed to take out their own trespassing warrants. So if it was a iffy situation on whether or not it was civil/criminal, we would tell the complainant to go take out their own warrant. This leaves it up to them to swear out the warrant, and keep us out of any legal entanglements.

I work for another department now and this commonwealth attorney (think top of the chain for the prosecutor's office for this county), has said if a person is not on the lease, they can be kicked out and placed on a trespassing list at anytime. That makes it very simple for us, and surprisingly nobody ever lies and says yes I'm on a lease but I don't have it with me. Some people feel like if they get mail there, have been there for 30 days, have a name on a bill, etc. they can't be kicked out. Well no matter how you feel, if the police/magistrate/prosecutor/and judge all agree that you can be arrested for trespassing and convicted, you will be.

"Breaking and entering" or burglary as we usually refer to it. Applies to businesses and homes that have residents living there. Breaking into a vacant home, no matter how long it has been vacant, will constitute trespassing and possibly vandalism if they damaged something. (VA laws, can't speak for other states)

If tenant is staying past your lease time frame or after you've told them to move out, we would refer you to the eviction process. The court deputies will serve the eviction paperwork and make the person leave the premise when the time comes.

Sorry for the long answer but that's a good and complicated question, as you can see it's a very thin line and gray area that we deal with in evictions/trespassing. We prefer to avoid it if we can. Unfortunately it's better to err on the side of civil, than it is to make an arrest thinking it's criminal (now you're into false arrest and civil rights violations). It's very common now to get this confused between officers in even the same department as it has changed how we do things, and for a new officer it really could depend on which senior officer tells you is the right answer (because it was that way for 20 years and they didn't realize things changed) so misinformation gets passed along.

 I hope that made that as clear as mud for you. Short answer-depends on the totality of the circumstances and how the situation came to be. For a more specific answer I would need a more specific question, i.e. are we talking staying after lease expired, or homeless people huddled up in your vacant home.

Bill

Originally posted by @Bill Ward :

@Mike Hern sorry but I can't make this any shorter other than yes, jurisdiction matters apparently. From my experience this varies by jurisdiction (state and city by city as far as I can tell). As far as a random squatter such as a person taking up living in a random vacant house, I have never seen this. Other than a homeless people staying in an abandoned building. They obviously don't put up any fight and usually just run if someone comes around.

I'm in VA, for us as law enforcement to be able to do anything, the magistrate's, prosecutors, and judges all need to be on the same page on what's criminal and civil. Up until a couple of years ago at my previous city of employment, the answer for eviction there was "if they pay rent, have a verbal agreement to pay-even if they haven't paid yet, or contribute to the household financially" (think roommates, subleasing, renting rooms in your house, and the friend "can I stay on your couch for a week for $20") that was all said to fall under a landlord/tenant rule and so we always told people they needed to file an eviction if they wouldn't leave. From the magistrate's mouth, any agreement for housing in exchange for something = landlord/tenant. Regardless of actual leases. As police officers, we weren't allowed to enforce civil matters. Citizens are also allowed to take out their own trespassing warrants. So if it was a iffy situation on whether or not it was civil/criminal, we would tell the complainant to go take out their own warrant. This leaves it up to them to swear out the warrant, and keep us out of any legal entanglements.

I work for another department now and this commonwealth attorney (think top of the chain for the prosecutor's office for this county), has said if a person is not on the lease, they can be kicked out and placed on a trespassing list at anytime. That makes it very simple for us, and surprisingly nobody ever lies and says yes I'm on a lease but I don't have it with me. Some people feel like if they get mail there, have been there for 30 days, have a name on a bill, etc. they can't be kicked out. Well no matter how you feel, if the police/magistrate/prosecutor/and judge all agree that you can be arrested for trespassing and convicted, you will be.

"Breaking and entering" or burglary as we usually refer to it. Applies to businesses and homes that have residents living there. Breaking into a vacant home, no matter how long it has been vacant, will constitute trespassing and possibly vandalism if they damaged something. (VA laws, can't speak for other states)

If tenant is staying past your lease time frame or after you've told them to move out, we would refer you to the eviction process. The court deputies will serve the eviction paperwork and make the person leave the premise when the time comes.

Sorry for the long answer but that's a good and complicated question, as you can see it's a very thin line and gray area that we deal with in evictions/trespassing. We prefer to avoid it if we can. Unfortunately it's better to err on the side of civil, than it is to make an arrest thinking it's criminal (now you're into false arrest and civil rights violations). It's very common now to get this confused between officers in even the same department as it has changed how we do things, and for a new officer it really could depend on which senior officer tells you is the right answer (because it was that way for 20 years and they didn't realize things changed) so misinformation gets passed along.

 I hope that made that as clear as mud for you. Short answer-depends on the totality of the circumstances and how the situation came to be. For a more specific answer I would need a more specific question, i.e. are we talking staying after lease expired, or homeless people huddled up in your vacant home.

Bill

Good to know from a law enforcement perspective. It's been a puzzler.

When doing fix & flips in PHX AZ I have several times had homeless people break in and when I come back on monday I find them there. One had a lease agreement she had filled out using bogus information and I was able to produce my Warranty Deed and ID and the cops carted her off to the pokey (she had an outstanding warrant so I suspect that played a role.) Another time, different house, the neighbor listed the house I had for sale as an AIrBNB and put the electric & water in his name and put some furniture in. I arrived to find a couple who had booked the house and I called the police not knowing what was going on. This was in the historic part of town near the police station and 8 squad cars showed up. Very nice guys by the way. The perp had broken in and changed the locks and rented it out. Anyway, he got off scot free, (how do you prove things) and how much time do I want to put into it. On one occassion, yet a different house, someone broke a window and spent the night and left his crack pipe on his sleeping bag. He wasn't there when the police arrived so there was nothing to do except dispose of his stuff. I was then told by the cop that if I post a "No Trespassing" sign they had more latitude. Bottom line, I stopped doing fix & flips. ;-)

Homeless living/staying in a vacant property is not something that is common around here, so my experience is somewhat limited. Usually it's a property that's been vacant for several months with no activity, and then we find the leftovers from someone smoking or drinking in there, maybe a blanket or two.

As far as trespassing, assuming AZ is similar to VA, it's Trespassing after having been forbidden to do so. So we tell people to place the signs up, gives us a little more reason to stop someone and identify them. Usually their information would be passed on to the property owner, if we can determine who it is. We need an agent of the property to be able to come to court and testify that the suspect was not authorized to be there. We can't just say there was a sign and suspect 1 was there on the property, we need proof they weren't allowed to be and no one gave them permission. Often a big hurdle for out of state owners. Some places, businesses or shopping centers, have a letter on file with the police department, stating that they are allowing the PD to operate as an agent of the property, allowing us to ban people and enforce trespassing. Side note, if you haven't already, contacted the police in each location you have a property and let them record you as the "key holder" or "owner" if necessary so they can contact you if something happens. A lot of time we don't have any contact information for a property.

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