Boulder residents who intentionally leave their doors open, may unintentionally be inviting a Boulder police officer in for a visit.
Chrissy Smiley learned this fact in surprising fashion on Thursday afternoon when she returned to her south Boulder condo after a 40-minute walk with her dogs to find a card from a Boulder police officer sitting on her dining room table.
Disturbed by the discovery, Smiley said she quickly called the officer back to ask why he had entered her home without her permission.
"He was very nice. He said he had come back to follow up on another officer who had been there for something and he felt he had probable cause to make sure that I was safe," Smiley said, adding the she found the officer's explanation unsettling.
"I have nothing to hide. My house is really clean, there are not bongs lying around. It's just creepy that someone would come in when I am not there."
Smiley, a Boulder resident for 28 years, said she routinely leaves her sliding glass door open when she leaves the house for short amounts of time. To access it a person must open a latching gate, go up some stairs to reach an elevated deck where the door is located.
Smiley said she never uses her front door, which also opens onto the deck, but that entrance to her condo is always locked.
She said the sliding glass door does not have a screen that can be closed when the main door is open.
To access the dining room, Smiley said, the officer would have had to enter through the door and walk through her kitchen.
"Maybe it is uncommon to leave your door open, but whatever, it doesn't invite them in," she said. "On the off chance that I am being murdered or held hostage, I'd rather take my chances with that, than know that a cop can just come into my house if my door is open."
Smiley took up the issue Boulder police Sgt. Michael Everett, who in an email response to her inquiry, explained that entering unsecured residences is standard operating procedure for most law enforcement agencies, including, Boulder police, and one that is not likely to stop.
"There are many reasons for checking residences that are left open," Everett wrote in his response. "They include in-progress crimes and injured parties inside. There are situations which create a duty for officers to enter and check residences. Failure to do so creates liability for that officer and agency."
He added that the practice is backed by sound legal reasoning and is consistent with best practices for law enforcement agencies.
Boulder police spokeswoman Laurie Ogden supported Everett's statements.
She noted that the officer was visiting Smiley's home to follow up on another officer's attempt to serve her a summons for a dog off leash violation and failure to remove animal excrement.
Smiley, who said she did not see the other officer's card which was left on her front door, did not respond to that officer's request for contact, before the second officer made his visit.
Sgt. Jim MacPherson said Boulder police have dealt with Smiley on a number of issues and she is usually not cooperative.
He said that even if Smiley had a closed screen door, the officer might have had a reasonable suspicion that something was amiss that would have spurred him to enter the home.
The situation is more commonly encountered in higher traffic, higher crime areas like University Hill, where residents sometimes leave their doors open late at night, raising the suspicions of neighbors who then call police to perform a welfare check, MacPherson said.
He said the decision to enter an unsecured residence is not one made lightly, and is based on variables such as if the officer observes mail piled up by a door or sees someone inside who appears to be in physical distress.
"We absolutely do not do these things on a whim," MacPherson said. "We always knock and announce before entering."
Smiley said she is not satisfied with the department's explanation of this policy and sees it as a violation of her civil rights.
"If anyone sets and toe in my house I am going to call a lawyer next time," she said. "That is not OK."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Joe Rubino at 303-473-1328 or firstname.lastname@example.org. ___