Reader report: Unusual door-knocker

Alki’s Larry Carpenter asked us to pass this along:

About 4 pm today I got up to answer a brusque knock at the door in my neighborhood at 63rd and Hinds near the Alki UCC church. A repair man had just given me an estimate 30 minutes earlier, so I figured he was back with a question. The knocker turned out to be a 25-ish, normally dressed, white man who announced in good English that he was touring the neighborhood as part of an army exercise to “test his communication skills.” He then handed over his US Army i/d bearing the name Regan. I kept waiting for some sort of solicitation such as selling magazines to support combat readiness or whatever. However, he explained that his only purpose was to improve his ability to approach strangers and win their confidence via straighforward speech and strong eye contact. After saying that his team chief had left some 25 of his mates in the surrounding area and that I might see others walking about, he extended his hand for a firm handshake and headed off around the corner. H-mm. I wonder how this approach would go over in Baghdad’s Sadr City.

[Larry spent 20 minutes trying to reach police on a non-emergency basis …] I finally tried a few neighbors, but nobody was home yet. My last call found a woman neighbor at home, who reported that she had earlier noticed several strange young men hanging around the USPS mailbox on the corner and had already decided not to answer the door if anyone rang. [SPD Crime Prevention Coordinator] Benjamin Kinlow had just briefed us at the Alki Council on Thursday that we should always report suspect activities to the police and to our block watch neighbors. When wife Marge observed my rising frustration, she suggested that if I really wanted anybody to get the word, I should send it to the WS Blog.

27 Replies to "Reader report: Unusual door-knocker"

  • Native April 22, 2008 (8:15 pm)

    What is the deal with these people? We had a similar visitor (Seaview neighborhood) around 4pm this afternoon also. He said the same thing as Larry’s visitor… “I am practicing my communication skills, etc.” He had various laminated cards, one with his picture on it, that he flashed at me.

    Never did figure out what he wanted….

  • beachdrivegirl April 22, 2008 (8:36 pm)

    Sounds a bit strange to me; and thanks for the heads up. :)

  • marco April 22, 2008 (8:36 pm)

    he obviously needs a lot more training before he can win your confidence, Larry ;)

  • Creighton April 22, 2008 (9:19 pm)

    Actually, I did this a bit when I was in the Army back in the day, but we wore the uniform and did it on drill weekends. It’s good that he presented his ID, sounds pretty good-to-go if he did that. If there is a next time quiz him about what unit he’s with and the name of his commander or something.

    Take it from me, this kind of thing really does help in Baghdad. For those that get outside the wire often, most of your day is spent talking with the locals. Dunno what’s up with your guy, but if it’s legit it’s a good idea executed badly by the team chief. If it’s not legit, sounds like you gave him the ‘don’t screw with this homeowner’ look well enough to have him not come back.

  • danno April 22, 2008 (9:50 pm)

    I call BS.

    If they are not in full uniform with their CO present, it is just another scam. Watch your neighborhoods carefully, lock all entries when you are gone and be ALERT!!!

  • LyndaB April 22, 2008 (10:10 pm)

    thanks for the info. i second the comment by the writer. if you want news or get news out, the WSB is the best place to get it. i don’t know how many times i’ve said ‘i read it on the WSB’.

  • chas redmond April 22, 2008 (10:12 pm)

    It is curious, that’s for sure. If it’s as the first young man said, an exercise in civility being practiced by solders on duty, then there’s probably some good interaction psychology trying to be understood. It might also be the case that a fully dressed soldier, field gear or off-site gear, might be even more intimidating to an American citizen inside their home in the United States. What kind of message would that send? Someone you know dearly has died? That your government has some bad news for you?

    I think a little advance notice might have been a better tactic and perhaps – again, if this is as indicated – one of the goals of this “exercise” is to learn what doesn’t work using benign American citizens as the practice populace. Rather than perhaps non-benign Iraqi in some city or town.

    Again, curious, indeed.

  • danno April 22, 2008 (10:44 pm)


    Again, BS. Why should you be intimidated by a soldier? He or she would clearly be unarmed. By the way if you have a loved one in the armed services overseas, officers come to your door, in numbers, and they pull right up to your house in an official vehicle.

    Get real people, this is a scam! For the very reason above, it is not an oficial Army program. What if they do knock by accident on a door of someone with a loved one at risk. They would never take that chance.

    And out of uniform in an official Army program does not happen that way.

    Wake up.

  • Native April 22, 2008 (10:52 pm)

    To clarify, the person that visited my house today was CLEARLY not in the military, and didn’t mention anything about being in the military either.

  • Paul April 22, 2008 (11:32 pm)

    This is truely strange. I just watched the 11 PM news and there was nothing on the news about this. I would think that there would be some type of coverage on it. WSB, can you use one of your PD contacts and get to the bottom of this for us?

  • WSB April 23, 2008 (6:58 am)

    I’ll check with them today. You’re generally not going to see a citywide tv news report about an “unusual door-knocker” – that’s what neighborhood-level media is about, and why we chose to do this full-time rather than staying in TV – to get the word out on the neighborhood-level info you’re not going to hear anywhere else, instead of working for one of 4 tv stations telling you basically the same thing in quadruplicate. (Although at my last station, we did pursue an unusual series of reports a few years ago on the traveling groups of door-to-door solicitors that go from city to city; even tracked one such group down to its temporary base at a Seatac hotel.)

  • Mel April 23, 2008 (8:13 am)

    We had two guys ( sounds like the one guy you wrote about) (Beach Drive close to Lighthouse ) knocking at our door.
    Because we had another guy 2 weeks a go who wanted to sell us subscriptions and ended up with asking for money to support him- I didn’t open and asked what they want, they said something about voting- and I opened. Then they were telling me something about
    5000 points they have to make and made some jokes and it ended up that they just want to sell me subscriptions, too…
    I saw them later coming back and talking to other people in the neighbourhood

  • JenV April 23, 2008 (8:28 am)

    apparently “practicing my communication skills” is army code for “casing the joint”

  • Betty April 23, 2008 (8:36 am)

    Last evening between 5-6p in Seaview we also received this visitor. He asked for a CASH donation for underprivleged children. His “script” was hanging from his back pocket. My husband spoke with him. And can better describe the incident. Enough to say if the solicitor had not interrupted dinner he would have been followed because he set off our internal alarm.

  • moldygreg April 23, 2008 (8:39 am)

    This guy stopped me while I was walking my dog in the Seaview neighborhood. I also happened to be on my mobile at the time. I actually thought something was wrong due to him stopping me on the sidewalk, but then he lit into his spiel. I excused myself and moved on. Odd fellow.

  • Tonya April 23, 2008 (8:55 am)

    I had an african american gent knowck on my door last night, (beach drive) and he gave me a spiel about doing community service hours for his parole (I kid you not) and right after he said has was not here to ask for anything he whipped out his brouchure of magazines. He was nice enough but I really hate these kinds of intrusions.

  • flipjack April 23, 2008 (8:56 am)

    Hopefully they are trying to use this as a new way of approaching people in houses in Iraq. Maybe the set-off-explosives-and-blow-up-front-door-with-no-
    method isn’t working anymore. I hope they don’t start testing that out here!

  • Patrick the Sales Guy April 23, 2008 (9:18 am)

    I had a boss once who sent me to a sales seminar. Neither one of us was aware that the seminar was being run by the one guy in America who could write the book, “The Seven Highly Effective Habits of Boiler Room Managers.”

    From that I learned that you have to use one or two words to create interest and relieve apprehension. That’s where the “army training exercise” portion of the spiel comes from not the DoD.

  • Frank April 23, 2008 (9:19 am)

    I’m wondering what the ID looked like. It has been quite a few years not that the IDs for Active Duty have changed from a “laminated” card to a credit card type of ID in a “portrait” format instead of a “landscape” format. It also has one of those metallic IC chip looking thing on it.

    The only IDs that are still laminated, as far as I am aware, are the retired and dependent ID cards. And those are blue (retired) and orange (dependent).

    A bit of advice, if you are approached by anyone claiming to be from the military, get their unit and CO name. Also, if they are doing ANYTHING while on duty or representing the military they should be in uniform, and NOT a working uniform i.e. Cammies, coveralls…etc. Unless that stipulation has changed in the four years I have been retired, although I doubt it has.

  • Jack Loblaw April 23, 2008 (9:25 am)

    One question: Why do any of you open your door to anyone that you do not know ? Don’t you guys watch the news or read the newspaper ? It seems every week that someone opens the door to a stranger and has something bad happen to them.

  • coffee geek April 23, 2008 (10:45 am)

    This isn’t military. They set up their own mock-ups for communications practice…according to my supervisor (active duty Army COL).

  • natalie April 23, 2008 (12:56 pm)

    Had a man approach me yesterday too. Said he was working on his communication skills. No reference to the military. However he wanted to find out about what I did for a living. He said that his team leader thought he might want to learn about different occupations. I thanked him for his interest and told him I didn’t want to participate. He moved on.

  • AlkiNeighborhood April 23, 2008 (1:33 pm)

    I had a knock on my door at 1 PM today – young man said he was practicing his communication skills and that he wanted to talk about careers. He wanted to be a pilot, flying helicopters and what did I do? As I was on a conference call (muted, of course), I told him I couldn’t talk right now. No mention of company, ID, name or the like.

  • toomanyratsinacageakaWS April 23, 2008 (1:41 pm)

    What I’m wondering is why it took 20 minutes to get no assistance from the non emergency line. I’ve called it a few times over the years and never had to wait more than a few minutes. I have never been helped with my concern, it seems to be more of a stats tracking call center in my experience, but I never had to wait 20 minutes. Basically, there are non emergencies that we are encouraged to call in but the way they are received and handled in my experience does not seem to show any urgency with citizen concerns other than tracking. A 911 call is more likely to get a priority based response but I have never gotten one from calling the non emergency line.

  • add April 23, 2008 (2:27 pm)

    I’m sorry but any kind of “communication skills training” that involves randomly approaching strangers and chatting them up seems really out of whack to me. I would definitely report it in some way – the non-emergency line, 911 if really weird/threatening, or WSB!

  • CMP April 23, 2008 (4:03 pm)

    I was over at a friend’s home in the south Rainier Beach area last Friday evening when they got a knock on their door. My friend said it was a hippie-looking white man (but pretty clean-cut), probably in his 20’s, either asking for donations or trying to sell something (I can’t remember the specifics). Neil asked him for a website or company information so that he could research on his own time and the “salesman” seemed annoyed and walked away without providing any further info. Looks like West Seattle isn’t the only neighborhood that deals with this stuff. Makes me glad I live in an apartment with a secure entrance so I probably won’t have to encounter these annoying people. If I owned a home, I’d have “No soliciting” signs all over the place! And thanks to all who contact WSB about these incidents to keep the rest of us on the lookout.

  • Doris April 26, 2008 (7:38 am)

    I had two almost identical experiences, a year apart, approximately 4 and 3 years ago, both Black men, about 35 – 40 years old, in Cougar Hills, Bellevue. Both men said they were with a program to help them with their education and ability to deal with people.
    Both asked me for handyman work around my house. When I said I don’t hire handymen, they both asked me to write a recommendation so someone else would hire them. When I said I wouldn’t because I didn’t know them, they said they would tell me about something so I could critique their presentation, and THEN write them a recommendation. I said no and told them to leave. The second man left without further comment, but the first man got angry and started tell me how unjust I was to not even give him a chance! A bit later I noticed that he had keyed both doors of my rather new minivan as he walked away. No mistake, the scratch wasn’t there before he came.
    Also, both times, after the men rang my bell, they put their eyes right up to the small squares of glass in my door that do provide a clear view in, and watched me approach the door. Since then, I’ve taped paper over the glass so no one can see in, but I also cannot see out.

Sorry, comment time is over.