What to Do When the Police Show Up at Your Facility

Jon Fesmire |

Even the safest, most secure storage facilities receive the occasional visit from the police. How you respond to police inquiries as a self storage operator is important. Handle it wrong, and you could be breaking the law or opening yourself up to a lawsuit. These guidelines will help you to cooperate while still protecting your rights.

When The Police Show Up

There are many reasons why the police may show up in your office to ask questions. They may be looking for information on a suspect or a witness who rents at your storage facility, or they may need to search a specific unit. Be friendly and listen to their request.

When an officer shows you their badge and ID, they’ll often just flash it at you and then close it. Ask to see it long enough to read it. While you do not have the legal right to make a photocopy of it, jot down the officer’s last name, badge number, and department, as well as the time, so that you have a record of the visit.

The Officer’s Request

Several things could happen now. Let’s suppose the officer has a warrant or subpoena to look into a tenant’s file. Read the document. You have a right to a copy of it, so photocopy it and give the original back, then let the officer look over the file, and make a copy of it for them if they request it. Do not part with the original files, ever. You need those for your records.

After you’ve seen the subpoena or warrant, but before you let the officer see the file or search the unit, call their department and verify that they have been sent to your facility for that purpose. That allows the department to get a record of the officer being there.

If the department says the officer isn’t supposed to be there, let the officer know. They may need to talk to the department to clear up a misunderstanding. Don’t share the file or open the unit until you have confirmation from the department.

If the officer has a warrant to look in a specific unit, make a photocopy of it, and take them to the storage unit. While legally you do not have to open the unit for them, we recommend that you do. If you don’t, the police will cut the lock, which could cause damage to your door. If you open it, that risk is much lower, and you’re showing that you’re willing to aid in their investigation. Ask if you can overlock the unit when the officer finishes.

Only allow them into the unit or units specified on the warrant, even if the same tenant is renting other units.

The Hunch

We’ve all seen the police hunch on TV and in the movies. An officer gets a feeling that they should follow a certain lead, but don’t have enough information for a warrant.

So, a policeman may come to your facility with a hunch on a case. If they don’t have the proper paperwork, you cannot allow them to look into a tenant’s file. For that, the tenant could take legal action against you.

It is possible to help the officer. Let them know you’re going to call the department to confirm that it’s okay for you to help with the case. You can let them know your concerns about sharing tenant information without the go-ahead from the department.

While you can’t show the officer the file in this case, you can look into it yourself and answer specific questions. This is legal and avoids creating a paper trail. The officer might need the tenant’s phone number, address, and the like. The information you provide may help them get further in the case, and they may later return with a subpoena or warrant to look in the file or search a unit.

There is one bit of paperwork you cannot give without a tenant’s permission, warrant or not, and that’s the tenant’s credit report. However, this will almost never have any bearing on an investigation, and it’s unlikely a police officer would ask for it.

By following these guidelines, you’ll be able to maintain a positive relationship with the local police force while protecting your rights as a self storage operator as well as the rights of your valued tenants.