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Debate over Gun Search Plan

Some Roxbury and Dorchester residents are bracing for a controversial new police initiative, called "Safe Homes." It would send officers to private homes, asking for permission to search for guns, especially in children's rooms.

The Police Department, which has repeatedly delayed the start of the program, says it now plans to launch it at the end of the month.

WBUR's Bianca Vazquez Toness has more on the story.TEXT OF STORY:

BIANCA VAZQUEZ TONESS: Single-mom Genevieve Casimir says her friends warned her about her 15-year-old son.

GENEVIEVE CASIMIR: They call me, they say, "Be careful, I think he's walking around with those gang people who have gunshot. Be careful." I don't see that, you know. I can't say it's true, not true. I need to see face to face.

TONESS: Casimir got the proof she needed a couple weeks ago.

TONESS: She was looking for her phone around the couch . She pulled off the cushions and there it was.

CASIMIR: Gunshot.

TONESS: Casimir is from Haiti, and refers to a gun as a "gunshot."

CASIMIR: When I see that I was so scared.

TONESS: Casimir called 911, the police came to her Field's Corner apartment and arrested her 15-year-old.

CASIMIR: Because I have my little daughter, you know, I don't want her getting hurt. Any day she find the gunshot. She could kill herself, you know.

MIKE TALBOTT: There are a lot of parents out there that need help, they just don't know how to go about getting help.

TONESS: Sgt. Michael Talbott commands the Boston police's school unit, the same unit that will go to homes asking for permission to search young people's rooms without warrants. Officers will respond to referrals from neighbors, police, school officials, and parents. The department calls the program "Safe Homes".

TALBOTT: We're concerned about the parents and the children and how they get rid of that gun. Throwing it in an alley way pr getting rid of it doesn't get it off the street. It just leaves it there for some other kid to pick up and shoot. So this is an opportunity where we're legally taking guns, giving them immunity and also protecting the parents and the kids.

TONESS: But many residents don't consider safe homes a good opportunity. Residents, such as Stefana Stokes, spoke out at a recent town hall meeting in Dorchester.

STEFANA STOKES: As a mother of a--luckily-- 18-year-old man, who I worry about constantly. Knocking on my door, looking for my sons, I don't feel comfortable with that. You don't know what the repercussions are.

TONESS: Even though police say they'll just remove the gun and not arrest for gun possession, there's no promise they'd overlook drugs, or evidence that guns they uncover are linked to a crime. And some people, such as Stokes, just don't trust the Boston police.

STOKES: This isn't about bashing police but you know they do have problems. And there's a history that doesn't feel good right now.

TONESS: The program targets neighborhoods that are predominantly black and Latino. Many of the city and state's black elected officials oppose the program.

They say they're frustrated with the up-tick in violence that has coincided with a down-tick in funding for proven violence prevention programs. State Senator Dianne Wilkerson.

DIANNE WILKERSON: This is a total abdication of our responsibility. What we're saying is that, "We couldn't figure it out. You have 'em!" Shame on us. And be clear. The police are doing exactly what they're supposed to be doing. So I don't take issue with this as their idea. But I'm clear--this is their idea. What the hell is our idea?

TONESS: When Boston police first floated this idea back in November, the public outcry convinced them to set up a community advisory panel. Consulting with residents has caused the police to delay the program for months.

A spokeswoman for the police commissioner says Ed Davis acknowledges this isn't a cure-all for gun violence. She says the police will continue communicating with residents and she hopes the programs successes will alleviate concerns. And success to the police is removing guns without arresting kids, and then plugging them into youth services.

But that wouldn't have made sense for Genevieve Casimir, the Haitian immigrant who found her 15-year-old's gun in her living room. She laughs at the idea of the cops taking away the gun but leaving her son.

CASIMIR: It was so sad you know. I say, "you know something, I talk to you, so many people talk to you, I talk to you, talk to you, talk to you. You don't listen, I feel sorry for you. I'm going to call police. Because you are 15, you are not 18 yet. Everything you do bad, I'm going to pay for it.

TONESS: But he's going to pay for it, too. It's going to go on his record.

CASIMIR: Yeah, I know.

TONESS: Soon, other Boston parents will be faced with similar difficult choices. What to do about their kids who may or may not have guns. And what to tell police if they want to check.

For WBUR, I'm Bianca Vazquez Toness.

This program aired on March 14, 2008. 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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