Residents urged to use free speech rights to complaint if they are opposed.

Richmond, VA – After hearing of complaints from local residents, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia has issued a statement regarding a Richmond program that sends police officers into residential areas between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. to warn homeowners and tenants that their vehicles may be vulnerable to a break-in.
Under Peek and Knock, police officers will be sent into select neighborhoods to look through the windows of parked cars.  When they see an object they determine to be a potential target for thieves, they run the car’s license plate through DMV to obtain the owner’s address.  They then go to the residence of the car’s owner to inform him or her of what they’ve seen.
The “Peek and Knock” program, as the ACLU refers to it, is intended to reduce vehicle break-ins, but has been met with skepticism and unease by many residents because of the manner in which it is being carried out.
Below is a statement from ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis in which he questions the efficacy of the program, but informs Richmond residents that it does not violate their constitutional rights.  His recommendation to affected residents is that they exercise their free speech rights to complain if they oppose “Peek and Knock.”
“Common sense questions the effectiveness of such a project, but we don’t claim to be experts in crime prevention.  We know, though, that some residents find it more than a little creepy that the police will be prowling around their neighborhoods and then waking them in the middle of the night to tell them they’ve left something in the back seat of their car.
“Our answer to residents who have questioned the legality of Peek and Knock is that it does not violate their constitutional rights.  The police have the same right as anyone else to look through the windows of cars parked on public streets, and they can run license plate checks to obtain addresses whenever they wish.  They can even knock on your door of your home any time of day or night.
“What the police cannot do is enter your residence without a warrant or exigent circumstances.  Also, just because it’s the police doesn’t mean you have to answer or open your door when they knock at 2 a.m.
“Our recommendation to residents who are concerned about this practice is that you exercise you free speech rights to object.”

 Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, 804-644-8022

Stay informed

ACLU of Virginia is part of a network of affiliates

Learn more about ACLU National