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BPD Plans Warrantless Searches

Boston Police officials are in the hot seat, defending a plan for search and seizure without getting a warrant.

Come January, the city's police officers intend to visit homes in four high-crime neighborhoods, asking parents if they can search their children's rooms for guns.

WBUR's Bianca Vazquez Toness reports on reaction to the plan at a City Hall hearing yesterday.

BIANCA VAZQUEZ TONESS: Boston Police are looking for a creative way to take guns away from kids.... By going through their things, in what's called a "soft search."

GARY FRENCH: By a soft search what i mean is a general search under the mattress in some of the top drawer, and the book shelves to see if there's a firearm there.

TONESS: Deputy Superintendent Gary French.

FRENCH: If there's a firearm there there won't be any charges filed against that child or anyone in that house as relates to possession of a firearm.

TONESS: Under Operation Safe Homes the department hopes to reach young people officers aren't already investigating, kids without rap sheets living in heavy crime areas......French singled out Grove Hall, Eggleston, Bowdoin Geneva, and Franklin Field.

FRENCH: 13, 14, 15-year-old kids. These are juveniles. These are kids who aren't on the corner everyday involved in the gang activity. But they're behind it.TONESS: The plan is based on a program started in St. Louis in 1995. Police there went door-to-door asking parents to sign consent-to-search forms and 95 percent agreed. Police found guns in about half the searches and netted hundreds of weapons.

TONESS: The high yes rate in St. Louis worries Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner, who called for yesterday's hearing.

CHUCK TURNER: I was concerned because I think that just the surprise of having police come to your doors creates an emotional atmosphere where it's very difficult to make hard decisions. and these are hard decisions.

TONESS: Turner says the program should be completely voluntary. Other councilors and community members worried about the repercussions of finding guns and specifically whether the police will share that information with others or prosecute.

For City Councilor Mike Flaherty the measure doesn't go far enough. He believes the police shouldn't grant immunity to homes where guns turn up and police should report their findings to the Boston Housing Authority — or B.H.A. — if the family lives in public housing.

MIKE FLAHERTY: We have people who are living in public housing that deserve the utmost attention and their quality of life is being also threatened by those who don't want to be law-abiding.

TONESS: ACLU attorney Sarah Wunsch says the only way for police to get community support would be to promise full immunity to families who participate.

SARAH WUNSCH: Don't fool parents into giving consent. Be honest with them. I know councilor Flaherty wants the BHA to kick people out based on this information. Well, if that's what's going to happen be honest with them. Let's not pretend there aren't serious consequences. Let's get rid of those serious consequences.

TONESS: Some residents of the targeted neighborhoods are advocating a non-police solution. Roxbury native Jamarhl Crawford says he and his neighbors don't trust the police.

JAMARHL CRAWFORD: The community and the police have a lot of repairing to do on a relationship before something like this could even be proposed to be done. It's going to backfire not to mention the fact that it totally circumvents the constitution.

TONESS: Crawford had another solution. He proposed that the police train parents to search their own homes and talk to their children.

Boston police didn't comment on such suggestions yesterday, but do plan to start a community advisory board to oversee the program.

This program aired on December 11, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

Bianca Vázquez Toness Twitter Reporter
Bianca Vázquez Toness was formerly a report for WBUR.

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