Saturday, November 17, 2007

Boston Police To Search Homes for Guns -- Without a Warrant

Gaius at Blue Crab Boulevard points to an article in the Boston Globe about a new policy in that city that will allow police officers to enter private homes in high-crime neighborhoods to search for guns -- without a warrant. Supposedly the police will ask permission to enter, and leave if the parents say no, but the obvious concern is that many if not most families will be scared to say no:

Boston police are launching a program that will call upon parents in high-crime neighborhoods to allow detectives into their homes, without a warrant, to search for guns in their children's bedrooms.

The program, which is already raising questions about civil liberties, is based on the premise that parents are so fearful of gun violence and the possibility that their own teenagers will be caught up in it that they will turn to police for help, even in their own households.

In the next two weeks, Boston police officers who are assigned to schools will begin going to homes where they believe teenagers might have guns. The officers will travel in groups of three, dress in plainclothes to avoid attracting negative attention, and ask the teenager's parent or legal guardian for permission to search. If the parents say no, police said, the officers will leave.

If officers find a gun, police said, they will not charge the teenager with unlawful gun possession, unless the firearm is linked to a shooting or homicide.

"I just have a queasy feeling anytime the police try to do an end run around the Constitution," said Thomas Nolan, a former Boston police lieutenant who now teaches criminology at Boston University. "The police have restrictions on their authority and ability to conduct searches. The Constitution was written with a very specific intent, and that was to keep the law out of private homes unless there is a written document signed by a judge and based on probable cause. Here, you don't have that."

Critics said they worry that some residents will be too intimidated by a police presence on their doorstep to say no to a search.

"Our biggest concern is the notion of informed consent," said Amy Reichbach, a racial justice advocate at the American Civil Liberties Union. "People might not understand the implications of weapons being tested or any contraband being found."

But Davis said the point of the program, dubbed Safe Homes, is to make streets safer, not to incarcerate people.

"This isn't evidence that we're going to present in a criminal case," said Davis, who met with community leaders yesterday to get feedback on the program. "This is a seizing of a very dangerous object. . . .

"I understand people's concerns about this, but the mothers of the young men who have been arrested with firearms that I've talked to are in a quandary," he said. "They don't know what to do when faced with the problem of dealing with a teenage boy in possession of a firearm. We're giving them an option in that case."

An option to give up their constitutional protections. Some option.

Gaius is scathing:
Regardless of whether you are pro or anti-gun, you should be outraged by this. Period. That it is being proposed in the city that once held a rather famous tea party and was a hotbed of Liberty only makes it more disgusting. The patriots who fought and died to secure Liberty for this nation have got to be spinning in their graves up in Boston right now. ...

I could not agree more.


Joan said...

Hey Kathy!

Okay, I am really confused. The police have ALWAYS had the power to conduct a search if the homeowner agrees to it. If a cop thinks a kid may have a gun, they can go to the house, tell the parents of their suspicions and ask for permission to search the place. So HOW is this any different?

Take Care

Kathy said...

The police have ALWAYS had the power to conduct a search if the homeowner agrees to it.

There's a difference between power and authority. Of course, the police can do anything they want, when it comes down to it, and no one can stop them. But the U.S. Constitution says that the government may not search anyone's home or property without establishing probable cause in connection with a specific crime and getting a warrant. No police officer in his or her right mind would search a home w/o a warrant, owner or resident's permission or not, because they would be opening themselves to serious legal consequences later on.

The Constitution does not say, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized -- unless the people give their permission." And there's a reason for that. Having three police officers appear on your doorstep (or one, the number doesn't matter) is *inherently* intimidating. What good is a prohibition against search and seizure without a warrant if the government can just ask people to ignore it?

Basically, what this program does is ask people to waive their constitutional rights and immunize the police from the requirements of the Fourth Amendment.

We're not talking about the rare situation in which the police have reason to think a specific individual was involved in a violent crime and have no time to get a warrant. I'm not a lawyer, obviously, but I'm pretty sure the law allows for a period of time after the fact in which the police can establish probable cause and secure the warrant. *But they have to be reasonably certain beforehand that there IS probable cause* and that a warrant *would* be issued. That is NOT the case with regards to this Boston program. If the program goes through, the Boston police will be allowed to search homes, "with permission," in cases where no judge in the city would issue a warrant.

We're talking about the government proposing to ask people, on a routine basis, to sign away fundamental rights. You can't do that.

Joan said...

Hey Kathy!

I will look into this, but I am pretty sure the police don't need a warrant if the homeowner agrees to a search. It could be argued that people may think they are not allowed to tell the police "no", but as things stand now they only need a warrant when the homeowner does not agree to the search, but I will look into it.

Take Care

Kathy said...

It could be argued that people may think they are not allowed to tell the police "no",


... but as things stand now they only need a warrant when the homeowner does not agree to the search, but I will look into it.

Are you thinking of Canadian law or U.S. law?

Popol Vuh said...

Joan, how is it different?

Simple. IF the police have sufficient evidence of an illegal weapon.....THEN.....normally they would follow the laws of this country and legally obtain a search warrant with that evidence.

However, without a search warrant, even if the police are just asking, it is nevertheless a coercive act due to the nature of having the police at the front door, and as such, disrespecting the constitution they swore to protect.

It also illustrates that they do not have sufficient evidence and are willing to conduct a "witch-hunt", again, in contrary with the constitution they swore to protect.

This won't just stop with weapons if not challenged.

Popol Vuh