Boston's 'Safe Homes' Initiative Isn't About Safety

When the government wants to take away our rights, it conceals its intent with the assurance that it simply wants to make us safe. The Boston Police Department's "Safe Homes Initiative" sounds unobjectionable -- who doesn't want a safe home? -- but it's important to look behind the marketing to understand what's really motivating the Boston police.

On the surface —- as with virtually all government actions diminishing liberty —- the initiative appears benign. The program is “designed” to help parents who have so little control over their children that they cannot —- or do not want to —- search their rooms to discover if their young charges are hiding firearms in their homes. Boston’s police chief, Edward Davis, graciously has agreed to fill this parental void by sending teams of officers to the homes of parents with children the police or other “community members” believe might be harboring hidden firearms. The “search teams” would then ask the parent or “other responsible adult” (whomever that might be) at the home for consent to search for guns.

What's the problem with "asking" for consent to search entire homes on the basis of unfounded rumors? Bob Barr explains:

First, of course, is the fact that three police officers showing up on your doorstep makes it very difficult for a parent or “other responsible adult” to say no when asked to consent to a search. This works a serious injustice to the notion that a person’s home is and should remain free from government searches absent a warrant based on probable cause that a crime has been committed.

The police are unlikely to seek limited consent to search just the child's room. Having gained access to the home, officers are likely to search anywhere they please, and are unlikely to confine the object of the search to weapons.

And while the police in Boston promise they will not “automatically notify schools or public housing” authorities if firearms have been found, they will not rule out notifying them. This could lead to families being evicted from public housing (even if the firearm was in the home for personal protection) or to children being expelled from school —- both results hardly designed to improve the quality of life or education of persons living in the poorer neighborhoods targeted by this initiative.

Barr's bottom line gets it just right: if the police have probable cause to believe that a home contains evidence of a crime, they should get a warrant.

But to go through this charade of searching without securing warrants, under the guise of obtaining “consent” of persons who may or may not be the parents of a child, under the transparently false premise that nothing will happen to them if they refuse or if something unlawful is found, is unfair and constitutionally deficient.
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    wow, that's really, really (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by cpinva on Wed Feb 27, 2008 at 03:32:39 PM EST
    nice of them! i wonder if they plan on introducing this program to the million dollar condo developments lining boston harbor? something tells me not.

    i have this sneaking suspicion (i know, i'm such a cynic!) that this wonderful new program is going to be specifically targeted to the lower income crowd, those least likely to have an attorney on retainer.

    i am curious though: if the boston PD has enough excess resources to devote to this program, does this mean they have crime totally under control in the city?

    This can't be efficient (none / 0) (#1)
    by Joike on Wed Feb 27, 2008 at 02:42:23 PM EST
    unless the police intend to use it to sweep thru neighborhoods collecting unlicensed firearms with the hopes of connecting the firearms to other crimes.

    I can see teams of police showing up at an apartment complex and asking a grandmother or other family member in each home for permission to search.

    Once in, everything they find is golden whether it is a weapon or drugs.  No illegal search.

    The cops don't need to show probable cause since they asked and were given permission to search so they can hit numerous homes in the hopes that something shows up during the searches.

    This sounds like political cover for neighborhood sweeps.  Do you think they'd set up a hotline for concerned parents to call.  "I'm worried my son has a gun in his room.  Can you send somebody out to see if they can find it?"

    I'll give them points for creative marketing

    Once they're in, the 4th is out (none / 0) (#3)
    by SeeEmDee on Thu Feb 28, 2008 at 10:43:22 AM EST
    As in the 4th Amendment.

    Police are well aware of what most people are not: consent to allow police into your home without a warrant and you have nullified your own 4th Amendment rights. They're trained to apply all manner of intimidation to accomplish that , i.e. "If you have nothing to hide, you've nothing to worry about."

    Anything they see that is the slightest bit suspicious will later be used as grounds for a full-on (and usually property-destructive) search. And because the police, judges and prosecutors know this, and the Average Joe doesn't, the onus is supposedly upon the Average Joe to know their rights against an unwarranted search. A lot of families have been sucked into the maw of the legal system and destroyed thanks to Officer Jack Boot finding a pot pipe carelessly left in view.

    Rule of thumb: if cops act all chummy to get you to let them in, they're fishing for something...and thinking you're a sucker. And if you let them in, you'll prove them right.