Mommy, There's a Cop in My Room

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Boston police are demoing a new plan that would let them into homes to search for guns without a warrant. All they'll need is the permission of parents–that'll be enough to let them poke around where the kids sleep.

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.

And what if the kids have Lite Brites? Same plan, I imagine.

Radley Balko on no-knock police raids.

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  1. Can’t the parents just look for the guns themselves?

  2. I second Lamar’s idea. I know it seems crazy: having parents actually parent, but I think it just might work.

  3. “The officers will travel in groups of three, dress in plainclothes to avoid attracting negative attention…”

    Maybe the police should dress up as McGruff the Crime Dog so they appear less threatening.

  4. But Lamar, what if the parents actually find a gun? Don’t you know that if anyone other than a police officer even looks at a gun–let alone touches one–there’s a 95% chance that the gun will spontaneously fire, killing an innocent bystander.

  5. If the parents say no, police said, the officers will leave.

    Only to return later with a warrant, or better still, conduct a SWAT raid. After all, why would anyone say no unless they had something to hide?

  6. Can’t the parents just look for the guns themselves?

    What, and take responsibility for raising their own child? Silly rabbit, that’s what free day care public school is for.

  7. Just to be safe we should have the kid arrested and detained until such time that we can be absolutely certain there is no gun.

    Also this seems to be more of a problem with shitty parenting and reliance on the nannystate than it is of police officers overstepping their bounds. They are invited in after all, so the no-knock raid comparison is a little off.

  8. If the parents say no, police said, the officers will leave enter their names into a DHS database.

  9. I predict the # of parents busted for other crimes (w/ evidence in “plain sight”) will exceed the number of guns found

  10. Ya think, Tommy?

  11. Can’t a property be searched without a warrant if the property owner gives permission? Isn’t this already allowed? What am I missing here?

  12. Paul,

    The only twist I see is that Police usually don’t generate a list of people they want to visit in order to ask for a consensual search. A police officer is as free as you or I to go door-to-door asking people if they don’t mind their house being searched. The only civil liberties issue I really see here is how the list of parents is generated.

  13. Paul, not exactly as the police need a reason to conduct the search. They don’t need much of a reason but the controlling language is “unreasonable search and seizure”. Consequently, they can’t walk down the street and demand identity papers from everyone but they can ask all who match the description of the guy who stole all of the sprinkles from the donut shop.

  14. “Good morning maam. I’m wondering if you’d like to toss the constitution and bill of rights out the window? It’s for the children, you see.”

  15. Abdul, police have generated such lists in the past.

    For example, I remember a case (in CA I think) where they went around aking every owner of red Ford escorts made between certain years for voluntary permission to vacuum under the floor mats in some real whodunit.

    In the end they found their car, whose owner had bought it from the murderer.

    Of course, at that point they were investigating a real victimful crime (and not some ridiculous political crime like weapons ownership).

  16. Will they detonate any reminaing Mooninites they find in some kid’s bedroom…just in case?

    Seriously, whether its legal or not, this ISN’T a good idea.

  17. Would it be cynical for me to wonder how many of these cops will notice drugs in plain view while they are asking if they can search?

  18. I have no problem, legally, with parents calling the cops and having them search their kids rooms, if that’s what the parents want and the cops have nothing better to do, but in practice, if a cop’s request to search a kid’s room is anything like the typical “request” to search a car in a random traffic stop, then the whole program is inviting abuse.

    …and I don’t know why it wouldn’t be like a traffic stop search. “Mind if I search your car?” …and hey, just because it’s in your living room doesn’t mean it isn’t in plain sight!

  19. there’s a 95% chance that the gun will spontaneously fire, killing an innocent bystander.

    Oh come on, you’re misrepresenting things in an attempt to dramatacize for political purposes!!!

    Everyone who reads the paper knows it’s more like 99.6%.

  20. This might be a good idea for the parents from the perspective of legal liability. I mean, if someone gets shot, they (or their heirs) might sue the parents on the theory that the parents negligently allowed the child to have a gun. If you give police the authority to search, then maybe you would have a defense against such a claim.

    I wonder how long until they decide to test out whether [i]landlords[/i] can consent to this kind of search.

  21. Can’t the parents just look for the guns themselves?

    Are you crazy, Lamar? They don’t have tasers!

  22. Dave Woycechowsky –
    In contrast, however, if parents deny the police and their kid ends up committing a violent crime with the gun, the parents could be held more liable though too, right? Even though they had no more reason to suspect their child had a gun than the police did, because if the police had sufficient reason they’d have a warrant, yes?

  23. Can’t a property be searched without a warrant if the property owner gives permission? Isn’t this already allowed? What am I missing here?

    Not a damn thing.

    The police don’t need any reason to ask your permission to do a search – the “reasonable suspicion” and similar standards only apply if they are applying for a warrant or trying to search without your consent or a warrant.

    I really don’t see a civil liberties issue here, as long as the cops don’t follow up on refused searches with warrants or whatnot.

    Now, as a symptom of culture that has lost touch with its roots and is rapidly becoming a Total Nanny State, this is disturbing. But for now, its not illegal.

    I wonder how long until they decide to test out whether [i]landlords[/i] can consent to this kind of search.

    I believe landlords already can consent to a search of property they own but are leasing, but I’m not positive.

  24. I wonder how long until they decide to test out whether [i]landlords[/i] can consent to this kind of search.

    Not likely…other than for emergency repairs, landlords themselves aren’t even allowed to enter the rented domicile without giving the tenant 48 hours notice (in NYS, at least). It’s hard to see how they could consent to a search.

  25. This might be a good idea for the parents from the perspective of legal liability.

    Damn, Dave. That’s kind of a frightening view of what constitutes liability, isn’t it?

  26. There is no civil liberties concern here. What IS here is a recurring pattern of asking the public to blindly trust authority; profiling certain homes; pressuring people by “asking” permission to search; and abdicating parental responsibility.

    I kept thinking to myself as I read: If this is REALLY about empowering parents, why not just teach them how to put 911 in their speedial in the event they find something? Such doublepseaking horseshit…

  27. Boston Boston Boston… my fair city never manages to amuse me!

  28. Boston Boston Boston… my fair city never manages fails to amuse me!

  29. Maybe another way of saying this is: If we REALLY want to empower people, how about we teach them to say “No” each and every time they are asked to consent to a voluntary search.

  30. Is this more evidence of the secret RepubliBushRovian control of the Leftist utopia known as Boston? Their reach goes even beyond POLICE UNIONS!

  31. to The Democratic Republican

    its not necessarily just telling them to say “NO” but the reason for why they can say no, mainly the 4th amendment. Almost no one realizes they have the ability to say “no”.

  32. Would it be cynical for me to wonder how many of these cops will notice drugs in plain view while they are asking if they can search?

    The appropriately named Eryk Boston, beat me to the obvious subtextual reason for these searches: drugs. We all know far more teens have a little weed stashed in their rooms than have a gun hidden under their mattresses. Of course it’s much easier to scare the parents into allowing a search if you tell them you’re worried that their kid might have a gun. I’d bet we see 20-1 drug arrests over gun confiscations out of this program.

  33. to Guy Montag:

    you are probably just being sarcastic but… the nanny state permeates left-right politics.

  34. Did it occur to anyone that there actually has been an increase in gun violence in Boston, mainly carried out by school-aged males, and maybe this isn’t a nefarious plot to steal your weed?

  35. Maybe so, joe. But do you really think that random house searches is going to do anything useful?

  36. Did it occur to anyone that there actually has been an increase in gun violence in Boston, mainly carried out by school-aged males, and maybe this isn’t a nefarious plot to steal your weed?

    Did it occur to anyone that there actually has been an increase in gun violence in Boston mainly carried out by school-aged males*, and this gives the cops a great opportunity to use the fear created by such to get parents to allow searches that the police know damn well will turn up far more drugs than guns?

    *Which even if true, the actual percentages of teens with guns is, I would bet, extremely small.

  37. Or to ask a slightly different question:

    But do you really think that random house searches is an effective use of police resources?

  38. replace “is” in both my comments with “are”…

  39. my idea: Cops hear about some gang activities, armed drug dealers, etc.

    why don’t the cops in the most crime ridden areas just go in there and seize the guns, forget about the drugs or other stuff on the scene except children in imminent danger or stuff like that.

    ask them who their rivals are because we’re gonna to seize their guns too, and as long as there is no prosecutions there’s no concerns about throwing out unlawful searches, yet there are guns removed from the street.

    Is this a ridiculous idea?

    I think the “suspects” would identify who else has weapons in the neighborhood/rival gangs if they were themselves left unarmed.

    Wouldn’t this take down crime and get guns off streets? An over-emphasis on a conviction seems misplaced if this would work.

    For due process concerns, after taking the guns, issue appeal forms to use to get the guns back, but most crinals won’t bother with that but any law-abiders would.

  40. Is this a ridiculous idea?

    Yes.

  41. If there there truly has been an increase in gun violence in Boston, mainly carried out by school-aged males, you have problems than run much deeper than the possession by some individuals of certain types of inanimate objects.

  42. But then, simple-minded kneejerk “solutions” do seem to be the norm. Not just here, but worldwide.

  43. Isaac Bertram,

    But do you really think that random house searches is an effective use of police resources?

    I will mail a $20 check to a charity of your choosing if you can find me a shred of evidence indicating that these searches will be conducted on random houses.

    Police will rely primarily on tips from neighbors. They will also follow tips from the department’s anonymous hot line and investigators’ own intelligence to decide what doors to knock on.

  44. Abu Hamza,

    From ther story,

    If drugs are found, it will be up to the officers’ discretion whether to make an arrest, but police said modest amounts of drugs like marijuana will simply be confiscated and will not lead to charges.

    “A kilo of cocaine would not be considered modest,” said Elaine Driscoll, Davis’s spokeswoman. “The officers that have been trained have been taught discretion.”

  45. Isaac,

    There are programs – public and private alike – that are working to address root causes of urban crime in Boston. Ever heard of the Ten Point Coalition? The Mayor’s Summer Jobs program? The community policing strategy.

    This is not a anti-gun program happening in a vacuum, but one targetting known individuals suspected of being involved in gang crime, in the context of a holistic approach to reducing violent crime involving public and private initiatives throughout the community.

  46. There was a very interesting post on instapundit the other day about this kind of thing goin on in turn of the century Atlanta.

    “Very interesting data on the 1906 Atlanta race riots, where mobs attacked black neighborhoods, the residents fought back (in an early form of straw man sales, light skinned residents bought guns for their neighbors), and police and the state militia responded with house to house searches for guns. The Atlanta Journal ran an editorial entitled “Disarm the Negroes,” endorsing the searches with comments such as “Should a collision between the races occur, it would be too late to deplore the fact that the negroes had been permitted to arm themselves.” The study also probes why GA law bans carrying at public assemblies, and notes the law was enacted after night riders attacked blacks who were travelling to a … public assembly, and they fought back.”

    It is interesting how the enlightened people of the commonwealth of Massachusetts have joined with the turn of the century southern racists to go door to door to make sure none of the darkies are armed.

  47. M,

    to Guy Montag:

    you are probably just being sarcastic

    That is frequently a good guess.

  48. Joe is right about the gun violence going on in Boston. Back in Oct. a 15 yr old kid shot a football coach in broad daylight in front of dozens of people. So I can see why some single mom working two jobs that can’t control her teenage son may be grasping at anything to keep him alive or out of jail. Issac above is correct, teenage gun violence is a symptom of a much deeper problem that isn’t being addressed. I wish people in this state could understand that instead of blaming it on the inanimate object. A perfectly law abiding citizen in the city of boston has no chance of getting a CCL as it is up to the police chief’s discretion and they don’t give them out. I grew up in the South and am comfortable with firearms. Most people I meet in MA have never held one and find them scary and think all this would go away if guns were harder to get.

  49. Did it occur to anyone that there actually has been an increase in gun violence in Boston, mainly carried out by school-aged males

    This sort of factual assertion is traditionally accompanied by a link.

    Just sayin’.

    Larf o’ the day:

    The officers that have been trained have been taught discretion.

  50. “””Consequently, they can’t walk down the street and demand identity papers from everyone but they can ask all who match the description of the guy who stole all of the sprinkles from the donut shop.”””

    In NYC, cops can ask for your ID. If you have none, sometimes they take you to jail for the purpose of determining who you really are. Best I can remember is started back in Rudy’s days (go figure). I think it’s part of their stop and frisk practice. It is being challenged. See more here
    http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/issueoftheweek/20071009/200/2316

    “””Not likely…other than for emergency repairs, landlords themselves aren’t even allowed to enter the rented domicile without giving the tenant 48 hours notice (in NYS, at least).”””

    Interesting story. I have a friend of mine in Arkansas that lives in an apt. building. He came home and found a summons on his table. I forget the charge but it had something to do with an unclean apartment. It was a mess, I’ll give that to them. But they entered and inspected his apartment without his knowledge or consent. When he went to court, the judge wasn’t interested in the 4th amendment issue. The judge told him to pay the fine now ($100) or double the fine later. He was pissed. Apparently, the law allows these apartment inspections for building code violations and your presence is not necessary.

    “””its not necessarily just telling them to say “NO” but the reason for why they can say no, mainly the 4th amendment. Almost no one realizes they have the ability to say “no”.””””

    Don’t they teach civics anymore?

    I agree that if it’s consensual, it’s not illegal. But first they have to teach the cops to deal with “no” word. Having said that, I don’t think it’s a good idea.

  51. MassHole,

    I would agree with you that there is a fairly widespread phobia about law-abiding people carrying guns among Massachusetts residents, but it seems strange to me to look at this as an example of that problem.

    We always hear, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” This is about targetting the people who are the problem, about getting guns out of the hands of gang members identified by members of their own community as being dangerous.

    There is such a thing as an irrational reaction to guns. There is also such a thing as an irrational reaction to efforts to stop gun crime.

  52. Given what a serious offense a minor in possession of a handgun already is (state and federal) credible tips that some neighborhood kid had a gun would more than likely constitute probable cause and make the obtaining of a warrant relatively easy. Sorry, but this just strikes me as another workaround by cops to lazy to operate in a system with constitutional protections.

    On the other hand given the wealth of malicious gossip and petty vengeance-seeking prevalent in any community frivolous tips with this type of freedom in the hands of law enforcement would lead to searches that are no better than random.

    Furthermore, I’m just a little surprised at you, joe. Usually liberals are quick to point out that people in some communities are quite seriously intimidated by the police making it questionable whether consent to a search under these circumstances will be truly properly informed. After all I think it unlikely that many of these searches will occur in the better-shod sections of Beantown.

    Finally, I’m not sure that this would ever net any but the most dense miscreants. Any punk with any brains will find somewhere to stash his roscoe other than in his bedroom.

  53. The Bostapo is just taking a page from another place with Universal Victim Disarmament.

    The Japanese police make “home visits” a couple of times a year, wandering through every residence in their precinct, looking for contraband or people “living beyond their means.”

  54. Maybe a pilot program in Detroit?

  55. Who says the kid will hide a gun in his room? Why not the basement, the garage, the family room, or the bathroom? It’s obvious to me that the cops will have to toss the entire house just to be safe. It’s for the children of course.

  56. So I can see why some single mom working two jobs that can’t control her teenage son may be grasping at anything to keep him alive or out of jail.

    Indeed, it’s a tempting siren’s song. But given the severity of the offense involved here it is unlikely she will keep her son out of jail if he is found in possession of a handgun.

    If you want to keep someone out of jail the last people you want involved are the police.

    Cops will say “it’ll go easier on you if you consent to a search.” But it never does. By consenting to a search you have surrendered almost all of your constitutional protections. That can never be good for justice, or public peace and safety.

  57. It would be interesting to know whether Eric Harris’ and Dylan Kleibold’s parents would have allowed the police to search their rooms before they murdered 12 classmates and 1 teacher before offing themselves.

  58. So I can see why some single mom working two jobs that can’t control her teenage son may be grasping at anything to keep him alive or out of jail.

    If that’s the case, why doesn’t she “grasp at” calling the police herself? The problem here is, that if the parents actually want the police to search their kid’s room, they would be calling them themselves. The only additional searches that will result from this policy are those where the parents are intimidated into giving consent.

  59. @M on this thread: As I’ve asked you before, I’d be grateful if you’d pick another name.

  60. The police would never take the information acquired during this friendly exchange and use it to obtain a warrant outside of “the program”. Its nice that the po-lease have promised not to arrest the children for small quantities of drugs “like marijuana”. Not sure what other drugs are “like marijuana” (aspirin maybe?), or what a small quantity is, but I did notice the promise mentions nothing of arresting the property used to facilitate the crime. Even if they don’t do it today, they may do some surveillance and come back with a warrant outside “the program” in the near future. Its probably not too much of a stretch to imagine during a future drug arrest at a house where a search was denied, an argument could be made the previous denial suggests evidence of the parent’s knowledge of criminal activity and even complicity. To the cop’s mind it will. Police departments can always use money, and houses are expensive. And what are they going to do with the small quantities of the drugs they find? Presumably they will confiscate them. If the children were buying on credit, that could get them in some hot water with their creditors. That could also get the spineless parent in some trouble too – with the children they are apparently afraid of.

    Otherwise this is a really great program the police are offering. I only wish they had it in my town.

  61. If it’s a low-key, consensual, non-threatening search, why does it take three cops?

    Why are plain-clothes cops (who are still easily recognizable by their badge and gun) less threatening than cops in uniform?

  62. Data shows that it takes three cops to effectively toss a house. One to cover the “suspects” while the other two cut stuff up. A fourth cop outside passing evidence through a window to one of the searchers is a good idea as well.

  63. It would be interesting to know whether Eric Harris’ and Dylan Kleibold’s parents would have allowed the police to search their rooms before they murdered 12 classmates and 1 teacher before offing themselves.

    In what way would it be interesting to know that?

  64. I have no problem, legally, with parents calling the cops and having them search their kids rooms,

    Legally, you can ask anyone you want to search your home… and legally, the police can use WHATEVER they find against you. Wanna go for it???

  65. Police will rely primarily on tips from neighbors. They will also follow tips from the department’s anonymous hot line and investigators’ own intelligence to decide what doors to knock on.

    joe cites that passage to counter Isaac Bartram’s questioning the logic of “random” searches. Ok, great, they won’t be random. But, Jesus, I don’t know what to think when the resident liberal is citing this kind of stuff in defense of the police and somehow thinks what is described is any better than if they were indeed random. We’re all too aware of how “anonymous” tips and tips from police sources are routinely abused to get whatever result the police want. So, if anything “random” searches would be less troubling than the way police use informants (which is not to say I would agree with random searches – far from it!).

    The underlying motivation behind this kind of thing, whatever its current-event tied rationalization, is that the police (and generally authoritarian) mindset is always looking to push back, step-by-step, limitations on their ultimate ideal: the power to search anyone, anytime, and anywhere they wish. That won’t happen overnight, but we see the slow chipping away here and there that ultimately leads to more and more acquiescence in police intrusions and allows the next “small” step down that road. And note that any acquiescence, once given, can never be revoked, as the increasing intrusions are a one-way ratchet.

  66. The police would never take the information acquired during this friendly exchange and use it to obtain a warrant outside of “the program”.

    Oh yes, because they’re so nice . . .

  67. he police (and generally authoritarian) mindset is always looking to push back, step-by-step, limitations on their ultimate ideal: the power to search anyone, anytime, and anywhere they wish.

    You hit the nail in the head. The Road to Serfdom is traveled by liberty being taken away little by little, always under the guise of “good” sense, sense of security, or “welfare for the children”.

  68. They are just like vampires – they can’t come in unless invited, but then they’ll bite you.

  69. Attention all planets of the solar federation:

    We have assumed control!

    We have assumed control!

    We have assumed control!

  70. While I find this appalling, one should remember that when you give the PO-LEECE permission to search your home they don’t need no steenking warrant.

  71. TrickVic above linked to an article about New York City that said this:

    “Cohen and others regularly offer advice on how to respond when halted and patted down. They tell young people to follow directions and remain nonconfrontational, even if it means disregarding their right to ask for the officer’s name or badge number.

    “We’ve found that when you do ask, that only infuriates the officers and makes things worse,” said Cohen. “Things can get quickly out of control if [officers] feel like they’re not in control or if you’re asking too many questions.”

    So what about the police in Boston? Are they infuriated when people say “no” and think they have rights?

  72. Brian Courts | November 19, 2007, 9:51pm |

    Note also, that as I said in my 4:45 comment, the offense of underage possession of a handgun is serious enough that if there are enough credible substantiated tips the police (or the feds for that matter) would have no trouble getting a search warrant, even if there were not a “gun violence problem”.

    And, to repeat, if you want to keep someone out of jail, the last people you want to be cooperating with are the police.

    This is nothing but another attempt to workaround and/or undermine the Fourth Amandmant.

  73. Isaac, Brian,

    I think you are misapplying lessons you’ve learned in other circumstances, without having a very good understanding of the community policing and related strategies that worked so well to reduce gun violence in Boston while improving – yes, dramatically improving – relations between the police and the public in Boston.

    The one concern you raise that seems to be legimitate is the residents’ understanding of their right to refuse the search. I am less concerned about this problem in this circumstance than in others – such as the cops stopping a Greyhound bus – because of the setting (people are more likely to know that they can keep people out of their house) and because of the demonstrated ability of the BPD to work cooperatively and respectfully with the community.

  74. And, to repeat, if you want to keep someone out of jail, the last people you want to be cooperating with are the police.

    This is a good example of misapplying lessons. Under neighborhood policing, the cops are given much more discretion to warn and confiscate in situations where there’s a chance to keep the kid out of trouble, and the police have a better understanding of who is an “impact player” vs who is basically a good kid.

  75. “And, to repeat, if you want to keep someone out of jail, the last people you want to be cooperating with are the police.”

    I agree 100%. I think some assumed my comment regarding a hypothetical mother inviting in the cops meant I agree with it. That’s not the case. I would never invite the police into my home, especially the Boston police. However, I can see how someone may mistakenly come to that conclusion. In addition, I think it is the police using peoples ignorance of the law to their advantage.

    Regardless, there is a problem in Boston with youth gun violence. Earlier this year, there was gunfire on the subway line I ride everyday. I don’t know how you fix it, but violating rights is not the answer.

  76. joe, I wish that you were right about community policing. Really, I do.

    But untill I see a change in the culture of corruption, violence, militarism and outright disregard for even the most elemental liberties that is rampant in America’s police forces I will stand by my opinion.

  77. I don’t blame you, Isaac.

    The police in this country have a lot of work to do to win back the public’s trust.

    I have seen such a change in my city, so maybe I’m a little more willing to give them a little more line.

    Where are you, again? Philly? LA? Texas?

  78. Central Florida.

  79. Full disclosure: I did not read the article.

    What is wrong with the owner of the home (parent) voluntarily inviting the police in? It is their home. Libertarians should applaud this as a free exercise of property rights.

  80. The owner of the home (parent) has every right to voluntarily invite the police in.

    He should not, however, expect any good to come of it.

  81. “”””So what about the police in Boston? Are they infuriated when people say “no” and think they have rights?””””

    I don’t know, you would have to ask someone in Boston. Cops are trained to be in control. To say no is to usurp that control. I don’t think any cop would like it. But having said that, I posted that link as a response to the comment about cops not being able to walk down the street and demand ID.

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