DC Police going door to door in search of illegal guns, drugs

Safer homes, safer neighborhoods

April 6, 2008

Police Chief Cathy Lanier wants to help parents and others who fear their own children or other family members might have a gun in the home. As part of her Safe Homes initiative, the chief announced that officers would be going door-to-door asking residents for permission to search their home and seize illegal property (guns, drugs, etc.) No warrants. Just knock, ask, agree and the latex gloves begin searching. We labeled the plan "Another dumb idea," and last week Chief Lanier admitted she made a major boo-boo.

"We should have announced this with a lot more information," the chief told reporter David Lipscomb of The Washington Times. "I take full responsibility for not announcing this with more information."

Thank you, Mayor Fenty and Chief Lanier.

We all want safer neighborhoods. But searching someone’s home without their explicit approval and full understanding of the implications of that search seems, to us, a move the city does not want to instigate. That’s why there was such an uproar. Even D.C. Council member Marion Barry (Ward 8), himself a robbery victim and whose very constituents were No. 1 on the chief’s list, said hold on. When other residents around the city heard of the door-to-door plan they, too, balked, arguing, and rightly so, that there were no guarantees. There were no guarantees that the person who answered the knock by police could legally grant permission; there were no guarantees that once guns and other contraband were seized that no criminal charges would be filed. Most important of all is the fact that police officers can say "non prosequi" all they want — before, during and after a search — but only judges and prosecutors have the legal prerogative and authority to make such a call.

As we editorialized on March 28, no anti-crime initiative should be executed at the expense of our civil liberties. It’s why we then urged the chief to go back to the drawing board. The chief needs to vet her Safer Homes plan with the very people she wants to help — law-abiding taxpayers and others who stake their lives on a safer city. As the chief knows, most of them don’t live in the neighborhoods that she wants to target.

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