Crime

'Police Are Like Vampires'

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As they wait to hear whether the U.S. Supreme Court will rule that the District of Columbia's firearm restrictions are unconstitutional, D.C. police are grabbing guns while they can. Under a program scheduled to begin in a couple weeks in the Washington Highlands neighborhood, police will go door to door, asking for permission to search. Any guns they discover will be confiscated and destroyed, unless they are linked to a crime. The police are promising "amnesty" for violations of the city's gun ban and for any other crimes they happen to find evidence of during the searches. This is hard to believe on its face: If they find a few kilos of heroin, piles of cash, or a severed head, they're not going to ask any questions? Even if they make no immediate arrests, what guarantee is there that they won't be back later, with a warrant ostensibly based on an independent source of information? Not surprisingly, residents are suspicious:

"Bad idea," said D.C. School Board member William Lockridge. "I think the people should not open your doors under any circumstances, don't even crack your door, unless someone has a warrant for your arrest."

Ron Hampton, of the Black Police Officers Association, said he doesn't expect many in the community to comply.

"This is one of those communities where the police even have problems getting information about crimes that are going on in the community, so to suggest, now, that the police have enough community capital in their hand that the community is going to cooperate with them, I'm not so sure that's a good idea," Hampton said.

In Boston, meanwhile, police have scaled back plans for a similar gun hunt in "four troubled neighborhoods" after unexpected resistance from the community. They promise to search only the rooms of minors, with permission from their parents or guardians, and "keep the discovery [of a gun] confidential under most circumstances." An ACLU attorney notes that public housing residents could be evicted for having guns, to which a local advocate of the searches responds by suggesting that police "would support any family that cooperated with the police and oppose their eviction." The Boston Globe says critics complain that "police will not guarantee that residents would face no criminal charges if guns or drugs were found":

"Police are like vampires. They shouldn't be invited into your homes," said Jamarhl Crawford, chairman of the New Black Panther Party in Roxbury, who moderated the meeting [of 100 residents at the Roxbury Family YMCA].

"Vampires are polite; they're smooth," he said in an interview the following day. "But once they get in, the door closes. Havoc ensues."

If you are wondering why anyone would consent to a search of his home when there's evidence of a crime there, there are two main explanations: 1) The person who consents may not know about, say, the bag of marijuana in the dresser drawer, and 2) people are intimidated by the police and may feel constrained to say yes even when they know it will get them into trouble. They may think that police will find a pretext to do the search anyway, in which case they will be angrier, more destructive, and possibly violent. In neighborhoods where residents tend to view police as an occupying force rather than peace officers there to assist them, that reaction may be especially likely.

[Thanks to John Kluge and Brett Wallis for the tip.]