Dealing with Solicitors
The NCPC is often asked about people who solicit door-to-door, or ask for money on the street. Here is a summary of what we know about selling door-to-door, and soliciting for money, in Oakland. The information came from the city employees who manage the permitting process.
It is illegal in Oakland to sell anything door-to-door without a city permit. The OPD records division issues commercial peddlers' permits; permits cost money, they require a business license, the permit holder must be fingerprinted. People who have permits must carry them at all times while soliciting and show them on demand. At any given time there are probably fewer than 30 valid commercial peddlers' permits. Lists of them can be obtained from OPD through the beat Neighborhood Service Coordinator or the NCPC. Holders of valid permits are absolutely forbidden to knock on the door of a house which displays a "No Soliciting" sign. If you feel that the holder of a valid permit is harassing you, you may - and should - get their name and complain to OPD about them.
The odds are very high that any specific person selling door-to-door does not have a valid permit. We encourage homeowners to call OPD's non-emergency line (777-3333) and report them; our beat PSOs recommend this. If OPD dispatch seems reluctant to take the call, tell them the PSO suggested the call; give your name and number, and get an incident number. If you feel at all threatened by solicitors, call 911 (or 777-3211 from a cell phone).
Going house to house is a known method of "casing" potential burglary targets; the solicitor hopes to get a look at the inside of the house when the householder opens the door, looking for portable valuables (laptops, electronic equipment, jewelry).
Certain firms are also known to lure young people from other states, especially Southern states, and bring them to California with a promise of "a big career in sales." Then they drop them off in a neighborhood with instructions to sell (magazines or whatever) as much as they can. These young people are often abused by the firms - not paid, not fed, sexually assaulted. They are certainly not valid permit holders.
Occasionally children or young teenagers come door-to-door soliciting for funds to support their schools. NCPC has checked with OUSD, and they NEVER send children door-to-door to solicit money.
The Oakland City Administrator's office issues permits for charitable solicitation. There are fewer than 10 of them in force at any given time. They cost $30 (the fee may have increased), the organization must be a valid 501(c)(3), and they must report back to the city on what they took in.
As far as we know, the city NEVER issues permits for people to solicit charitable donations door-to-door. Charitable permits enable the group to stand on a specific street corner, during certain specified dates, to ask passers-by for money. Every street solicitor must carry, and show on demand, a copy of the current valid permit, which shows the dates they're allowed to be there. Solicitors without a valid permit should be reported to OPD. A person soliciting charitable donations at your door may be well-meaning, but they're almost certainly outside the law.
We aren't sure about this. If we get definite information we'll post it here. Always remember: you don't have to answer the door; you never have to give anyone any money; and you should call OPD if anything about a situation makes you uneasy. Trust your instincts. A "No Soliciting" sign is always a good idea, and we have a free one available for download on this site.
In 2010 the U.S. will conduct its regular decennial census. Does this mean census workers will come to your door? What should you do if someone comes to your door and claims to be a census-taker?
In March 2010, the census project will mail a paper questionnaire to every household in the United States, with the expectation that the household will fill out the questionnaire and mail it back in. If you mail back a completed form, there is no reason for a census worker to come to your door. The census only sends census-takers to the door at addresses from which they never received a completed questionnaire. You might possibly get a visit if you mailed the questionnaire and the Post Office somehow lost it; but unless that happens, you should never meet a real census-taker at your doorstep.
However, if a genuine census-taker does come to your door, you are obliged by law to talk to them.
OPD Publications and Other Sources
Guidance on How to Handle Solicitors, Oakland Police Department
Guide to Charitable Solicitations, California Attorney General's Office
Solicitation Permit for Greenpeace, valid through Dec. 31, 2009. This is an example. We now post current charitable solicitation permits on our page Current Charitable Solicitation Permits.
What is a Census-Taker? From the official web site of the United States Census 2010.