After Glassel Park Murder A Review Of The Risk Of Door-to-Door Solicitor Encounters

Innocent peek or casing after a door-knock?
Innocent peek or casing after a door-knock?

The LAT’s is reporting that on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Reality TV writer/director James Marcus Howe and his wife were inside their Glassell Park home when a salesman knocked on the door. It took only minutes before Mr. Howe was dead and his wife was seriously wounded. The story reports that Howe and his wife approached the front door observing one man standing alone. According to police, another man and a woman immediately forced their way in. Apparently, the altercation escalated and one of the male assailants brandished a handgun. Mr. Howe was shot and died at the scene; his wife was also shot, rushed to the hospital, seriously wounded and survived. Their 6-year-old son was present but unharmed. According to the LAT’s story, LAPD Deputy Chief Jose Perez stated that “The victims were completely innocent. There is nothing to connect them with the assailants."


Time to revisit an earlier post of mine, revised but still relevant.

The days of door-to-door solicitors are a thing of the past-- at least as far as opening the door to them. For sure, solicitors will argue that they are entitled to engage in their activities. And some are. But I ask these important follow up questions. Will they be there when you are robbed, assaulted, or murdered by a person posing as a door-to-door solicitor? Will they indemnify you for you losses?

Once these hard questions are posed, the “vested interest” party usually defensively retorts, “It must be horrible to live in fear.” Another common refrain often advanced is-- “Home Invasions are not that common.” Both positions are fallacious arguments meant to bolster a complete stranger’s perceived right to enter your space, usually private property, in an attempt to make a profit or solicit a donation.

The actual reality is much clearer. Just because a person practices common sense and exercises a higher degree of caution, this does not automatically make that individual paranoid or overly fearful of life. What it does make them is Street Smart.

Back in the day-- actually my parent’s day-- it was not uncommon for individuals, mostly males, to travel around the country selling things. The Fuller Brush Man immediately comes to mind.

That was 60 years ago. Things have changed considerably. Mayberry is no longer a reality. The fact is that it is just too dangerous these days to willingly risk exposure to personal assault and perhaps death merely because you have opened your door to a stranger selling or requesting something.

Some individuals may feel this choice to ignore the knock on the door is just too harsh a treatment for a person eking out a living or acting charitable. Others may think the choice to limit contact with a stranger is unfounded paranoia.

Fact-- there are bad guys out there who make a business out of doing bad things to good people.

Police officers can legally detain, investigate, Field ID, cite and arrest door-to-door solicitors for selling or asking for donations without the proper city-issued permits.  

The rules door-to-door solicitors must follow are found under the Los Angeles Municipal Code, Chapter IV, "Public Welfare," Article 1, "Disorderly Conduct Places And Publications," Section 41.43.1.

Under "Door To Door Selling Or Soliciting" the LAMC Code specifically states: 

No person shall solicit, sell or offer to sell, demonstrate or take order for goods, wares, or any form of merchandise, by entering upon the premises of another for such purpose except in compliance with the provisions of this section.

(a)"Solicitation." …shall mean to sell or offer to sell, demonstrate or take order for goods, wares, or any form of merchandise or services.

(b) No person shall enter the premise of another for the purpose of solicitation between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. of the following day.

(c) Any person over the age of 16 who engages in door-to-door solicitations shall carry a form of photo identification and must present such photo identification upon request of any persons being solicited, any peace officer or other person charged with the enforcement of the laws pertaining to such solicitations. The photo identification must include the person's date of birth and be issued by a governmental agency or educational institution. Acceptable identification includes a state driver's license, state identification card, school identification card, or any government issued identification card.

(d) Any person engaged in door-to-door solicitation shall present the original or a copy of the Business Tax Registration Certificate required under Los Angeles Municipal Code 21.06 upon the request of anyone being solicited, any peace officer, or other person charged with enforcement of the laws pertaining to such solicitations.

(e) The provisions of this section shall not apply to vendors or solicitors who have previously been invited or requested to appear at such premises by the owner or lawful occupant thereof, or to persons making charitable solicitations in accordance with Article 4 of Chapter IV of the Los Angeles Municipal Code.

With regard to door-to-door salesmen soliciting magazine subscriptions and other personal property, Article 2, "Soliciting-- Sales" Section 42.19, "Magazine Subscriptions-- Sales for Future Delivery-- Where Solicitation Prohibited" covers this.  It specifically states:

(a) No person shall, on any public street, sidewalk or parkway, in this city, or in any doorway or entrance way immediately abutting thereon, solicit the sale or subscription to any magazine, periodical or other publication, or the sale of any tangible personal property for delivery at subsequent time.

LAMC permits some forms of door-to-door solicitation as long as certain guidelines are followed. The main guidelines are the possession of a proper photo ID; possession of a valid business tax license; adhering to the correct hours for sales; and, presenting the photo ID and tax license when requested.

No magazine sales or subscriptions, or the sale of tangible personal property, slated for future delivery are permitted.

Philanthropic door-to-door solicitations are permitted. However, several guidelines must be adhered to. A "Notice of Intention" must be filed with the department-- which in this case means the LAPD. An Information Card is issued by LAPD, and it must be displayed and/or presented for examination when requested by the person being solicited from.

Door-to-Door solicitation is prohibited between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. For children under 16, the hours extend from 8:00 p.m. to 9:00 a.m.

No child under the age of 10 shall solicit without a responsible party present 18 years or older. 

Critics often argue that the government is overly intrusive, acting as a Nanny State, smothering free market competition by limiting commerce, and stymieing capitalism by introducing restrictive mandates.

They also forget to mention that properly licensed and permitted door-to-door salesmen and solicitors add to the tax base and help support the infrastructure of the city they operate in. Additionally, the rules and procedures are enacted to both limit “panhandling scams” as well as to provide a measure of safety for the public. Legitimate solicitors have ID’s. They are registered with Law Enforcement agencies. They are held accountable for their actions. They must adhere to specific hours and days of operation. They must provide supervision and protection for any children working for them. It is all very basic and beneficial both for the public and the solicitors.

If it wasn’t viewed as a nuisance and a public safety problem, there would not be guidelines.

Many unlicensed non-permitted door-to-door solicitors are from out-of-state or from out of the immediate area. They travel extensively working their way across the country. Some have extensive arrest records. Some have outstanding arrest warrants. Some have bad intentions because they are using the pretense of door-to-door sales as a ruse to gain access to vulnerable people.

A recent ruse used in Glendale, CA was simple. Sell a magazine subscription and sweeten the deal by offering the buyer a chance to win a trip to Italy. Basically, it is the old dangle the bait and wait for the fish to rise MO. As P.T. Barnum supposedly stated-- "There's a sucker born every minute."

Not all the residents of North Glendale were biting. An alert citizen called the police. This allowed the Glendale Police Department to also go fishing. Glendale's catch for the day-- four arrests.

One salesman is carrying an illegal butterfly knife.  One man is on probation for robbery. He also has an outstanding arrest warrant from San Jose. The third man gives police a false name, a crime. He is arrested for selling magazines without a permit. The fourth man, arrested later, is also nabbed for the permit violation. He is on probation for grand theft. He has two outstanding warrants-- one traffic related; one for failure to appear in court.

Other than that-- these gentlemen are apparently outstanding citizens just earning a living.

Knowing what you do now would you willingly open your door to them?

All criticisms and debates aside, this is exactly the problem. People you do not know are knocking on your door. They are strangers. Common sense dictates you do not expose yourself to unnecessary risk by opening the door. Unfortunately, the once common practice is just too risky.

It is much more than the fact that unless the product is in front of your eyes, open to immediate inspection, you are not guaranteed the goods being sold to you will be delivered as promised. The most important aspect of this “open--don’t open” the door dilemma is that you don’t actually know who you’re dealing with. What is their background? What are their true intentions? What is their present state of mind?

Personally, I once hired a "nice" guy. He needed money. I needed yard work. I later learned he had 13 criminal convictions. One conviction was for Assault with a Deadly Weapon— he knifed a guy. It was pled down from attempted murder! That revelation startled me.

Obviously not everyone is "bad" who comes to your door selling or asking for something. That's not the point. The concern is exposure to unnecessary risk. How do you know what you’re facing until you are exposed?

You don't.

So the real questions are:  Are you willing to take a chance with you and your family's safety for the sake of not offending, not engaging in conversation, or not conducting a blind transaction with a stranger who knocks on your door and who may or may not be a legitimate, respectable, hardworking door-to-door solicitor?"

It makes more sense to stick with traditional methods for purchasing products and to not expose oneself to unnecessary risk. That’s my humble opinion based upon experience, education, research, and employment history. For me, it’s more than an intolerance for interruption at an inconvenient time; or the irritation of being bothered at my home by a stranger selling me something I’m not interested in.

Although I do enjoy my privacy, I also like to maintain a safe environment. Most people don’t know that without a fence, locked gates, and visibly posted “No Trespassing” signs, with the appropriate LAMC noted, anyone can legally enter your yard-- even rummage through your trash. All the police can do is come when called-- if they have time as it is not a high priority call-- and ask the individual to leave. There is no crime. Only if he refuses to leave when first you and then a police officer requests it will the PD advise you to initiate a private party trespassing arrest.

This is exactly why they invented fences and have lockable gates. For a criminal intent on committing a crime, access is everything.

Don't think for a moment Home Invasion robberies do not occur and often with violent outcomes. They happen more often than you think. In fact, criminals sometimes dress as delivery persons or pose as utility workers and meter readers.  Some criminals follow people home from stores, banks, work. They specifically target them because they believe they have valuables. Some instances of invasion are crimes of opportunity, more or less random in nature.

So do we live life in constant fear? No. That is not the intent of this information.

However, when possible, it is essential to properly identify individuals accessing your property or who are attempting to make personal contact with you. It is important to determine if they’re legitimate and conducting lawful business.

How can that be accomplished?

If you feel uneasy or mistrustful, a simple phone call to the business the person is representing can satisfy the identity requirement. If the person is truly legitimate and genuinely conducting business, they will not mind the wait. When unsure of a situation, it is best to defer to your instincts. Why are you unsure? Pay attention to the warning signals. Remember, just because someone knocks on your door doesn't mean you are required to open it. If the matter-at-hand is really all that important, the individual will leave a card or a notice.

The fact is that sophisticated burglars sometimes "recon" by door-knocking.

So what do you do?

If you open the door to a stranger, you expose yourself to risk. If you don’t respond to the door-knock, you risk a break-in while you are present.  A Hot-Prowl is considered a high risk situation by law enforcement professionals. If you respond, you let the individual know someone is present. It’s a true dilemma.

And once again that's why they make fences, lockable gates, breed and train personal protection dogs, install alarm systems, and manufacture weapons. However, not everyone wants to, has the ability or training to, or the finances to take advantage of the above solutions.

What's the solution?

Police suggest letting the person knocking know someone is present. However, they do not recommend opening the door to strangers. If the individual gets aggressive or attempts to gain unlawful entry, calling 911 and retreating to a "Safe Room" is a reasonable course of action. A Safe Room requires a lockable door so that it provides some measure of security until police arrive. Be aware that a digitally operated phone may not operate if the electrical power is disconnected. A Cell Phone or an old fashioned analog type phone will still provide 911 access if the electrical power is cut. A Cell Phone will provide 911 service if the phone line is cut, a digital or analog land-line phone will not.

Unfortunately, response times to calls for emergency police service are not always timely. It depends upon where the patrol unit is responding from, traffic conditions, how many patrol units are deployed, how many simultaneous calls for emergency service there are, as well as the severity of the incident being reported.

For example, an officer-involved "shooting-in-progress" call will take precedent over a "theft from vehicle" call. A "suspicious person" call will be answered more slowly than a 459-Burglary "Hot Prowl" call. Unless luck is on your side, I'd estimate at least 5-7 minutes for a patrol unit to show up to an emergency.

Ask this important question to yourself. Are you willing to risk your safety to answer the door for a stranger?

The decision whether to open your door to strangers and to support door-to-door solicitors is ultimately a personal one. The information provided should give you an indication when it is appropriate to contact the police, or if you even want to. Obviously dialing 911 because a door-to-door solicitor is standing on your door step is rather extreme without gathering more information. However, a call to your local Senior Lead Officer for a friendly "Heads-up" regarding a door-to-door solicitor working the area might be perfectly appropriate.

In the end, the police cannot be everywhere. Crimes happen, sometimes with deadly consequences. That’s an unavoidable fact. However, it is the alert, informed, and involved citizen who is the "eyes and ears" of the community and who often deters crime.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

nonoise December 10, 2013 at 11:23 AM
The problem is there is no enforcement of the law.
nonoise December 10, 2013 at 11:25 AM
No enforcement for solicitors, no enforcement of illegal street vendors, no enforcement for drivers without a drivers license, no enforcement of noise laws. No enforcement!
Gerald Elekes December 10, 2013 at 02:06 PM
@nonoise. In some respects, you raise valid points. Enforcement for quality-of-life issues in LA is pretty lax. Some might say, "Dismal." I've watched this city deteriorate drastically over the past two decades. Yet, more people come to "Paradise," or, "Paradise Lost" as it is for some long-term residents. However, other communities do actively enforce the Municipal Codes, Vehicle Codes and Penal Codes. Burbank, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Monterey Park, La Canada and Glendale immediately come to mind. As such, they are often considered nicer places to reside. Likewise, in more affluent areas of the City of LA, and particularly when "elite" members of the community are impacted negatively, enforcement suddenly becomes a high priority. I fault our City Leaders-- mostly repeatedly elected by the community???-- for adhering to and embracing lifestyle double standard ethics. Commonly known as-- "Let them eat cake!" Also, LE is responsible for maintaining an "Us Against Them" mentality, a behavioral pattern trained into and firmly engrained within the ranks-- and adhered to under the auspices of the attitude being one of "officer safety." The ultimate goal is to go home after work. They throw a few SLO's into the mix and call it "community policing." That is supposed to mitigate "customer" complaints when calls for service are botched or ignored. How to actually correct these deeply entrenched management issues-- beyond voting incompetent people out of office (likely impossible) and holding LE accountable to "the people" rather to their own internal operations (never going to happen)-- is beyond my understanding? In the meantime, I suppose all one can do is watch out for one's own personal safety while also keeping an eye out for one's neighbors-- even the one's we don't always get along with or agree with.
Norma O December 10, 2013 at 02:14 PM
their not police man out their...They can send you children over sea, to fight a war and don't have enough police to protect there citizens. The are only 2 police car, patrolling the Northeast area. Police are over worked and under payed.
Hulga December 10, 2013 at 03:43 PM
31,326 jaywalking citations issued in the Central Bureau this year and two patrol cars patrolling NE. Priorities seem to be where the money is. Those jaywalking tickets cost 250 bucks each. As far as solicitors go, I tell them through a closed door that I'm not interested.
preemero December 10, 2013 at 08:12 PM
Maybe this case will make for a wake up call. We havehad 2 home invasion robberies in our area, ER park end of Hill. Some politicians dad was killed so its big news. My neighbors house was almost broken into but the elderly neighbor to her home yelled she was calling the cops so they ran. I saw them and thought it was odd to see 3 gang banger types here. Then realized why my dog was barking earlier, I jumped my fence in the backyard and sure enough her back door window was broken. I gave her my account of what I saw she told the cops and they said they can't do anything unless I actually saw them break the window. A month later I see a individual walking up my street he looks exactly like one of the guys from before. I called the cops but who knows what happened. This latest episode might bring more results since a cop owns the rental house.
nonoise December 11, 2013 at 11:01 AM
There are no quality of life issues laws being enforced. Ask LAPD officers that they will tell you that has no priority. And, if you constantly try to get LAPD to enforce quality of life issues they will blacklist you as a nuisiance. Not only does LAPD not enforce quality of life issues but if you try to get them to enforce qualify of life issues they get angry about it and look at you like you are the problem and not them for not enforcing the law. Hulga is right about it is all about the money. However, if cites(tickets) were given for people that break the law for quality of life issues then the city would not be broke. Quality of life issues are no illegal street vendors, no driving without a drivers license, no illegal street dumping, no loitering, no littering, no illegal putting signs on electric or city poles, no noise, ect. Other cities do care about clean streets and noise complaints. Other cities even report noise complaints on the http://www.crimemapping.com website, but not LAPD. Other cities are about quality of life. Sadly, the LAPD doesn't. LAPD only has a couple of cars on the streets at any one time. There are not enough street officers. There are too many paper pushers and not enough street cops. But that is no excuse either not to enforce quality of life laws. Senior Lead Officers need to enforce quality of life issues too. If those issues there taken care of, if you take care of the little stuff the big stuff takes care of itself or at least is much easier to handle.
nonoise December 11, 2013 at 11:26 AM
Patch does not mention Chapter 4, Article 1, Section 41.32 which makes the church's amplified sound system illegal or the noise law or 41.57 or Chapter 11, Article 5. No noise. No church tape recorded bells and church music. No church amplified sound systems. No noise.
mark December 11, 2013 at 12:07 PM
OMG! You guys should all move out into the woods or something. So anti-social. Shame on you all. I try to believe most people are generally good when given the chance. I am naturally cynical and suspicious and easily annoyed, however I'm try really hard to be welcoming and hospitable to those around me. I know that nonoise is against churches (or at least one in particular) and I myself now lead a secular lifestyle. It would be interesting if some of you religious folks out there chimed in on this. Years of Catholic school left me knowing enough that you are all voicing a very unchristian viewpoint here. I encourage you all to look into your hearts, religion, or whatever moral compass leads you.... and see if there is a way to be a little more grounded to the other people around you. Remember it's christmas time for goodness sakes.
Gerald Elekes December 11, 2013 at 12:54 PM
@Norma... remember police officers choose to become police officers. They know the salary, which can be quite lucrative with overtime and days off, not including great Health and Dental Insurance, paid vacations, and a stellar pension. Plus, upon retirement, (20 & out) they can find other employment and "double-dip." How many LAPD command staff went on to run other departments? How many patrol officer's lateral transferred to other departments? How many LAPD have become wealthy with "settled" internal lawsuits. So ,along with the dangers and the time demands...they also know quite well what the rewards are. They get paid to do a job. That job is to protect and to serve the public. If a citizen calls for service, then service should be provided-- promptly, efficiently, and courteously.
Gerald Elekes December 11, 2013 at 12:55 PM
@Hulga...smart move. That's exactly what LE suggests as an appropriate response.
Gerald Elekes December 11, 2013 at 01:03 PM
@preemerro...that's exactly what the premise of Neighborhood Watch is built upon. Observe and report suspicious activity. Interacting with your neighbors is important for both your safety, their safety, and the general safety of the community. What the police choose to do about a reported "break-in", or if the police do anything in response to a follow-up call is-- well...one part of the indifference dilemma. A follow-up call to the area's SLO might grease the enforcement wheels. At least you stepped up to the plate and made an effort.
Gerald Elekes December 11, 2013 at 01:12 PM
@nonoise...I agree to an extent. It seems only the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Unfortunately, when it's only one squeaky wheel, the labels you suggested are soon attached. Sometimes the PD does consider it a nuisance when the same person keeps reporting the same "infraction/misdemeanor." I found through my experience that by gathering community support, one person at a time, one family at a time, one house at a time, one street at a time, and documenting that support with undisputable facts, often a neighborhood issue(s) can be settled. Not always, but sometimes. Of course, by stepping on people's toes, feelings are hurt, egos are bruised, and there is always the chance of ostracism. But, at least an individual stood up and did something about what they believe is as an injustice.
Gerald Elekes December 11, 2013 at 01:28 PM
@mark. Woods? Really! Anti-social? How, by engaging in discourse they are by default interacting socially-- opposing ideologies or otherwise. And the "shame on you?" What am I in Grade School again? I was waiting for Mother Superior to wack my hand with a wooden ruler. That was pedestrian at best. And, please feel free to treat people anyway you desire. America's a good place for that; free-will, freedom of choice, and freedom of expression being tantamount to a successful and healthy democracy. Just remember that 1st Amendment stuff works both ways. And, I liked the "Chime-in" part-- clever.


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