Sunday, November 18, 2007

Warrantless Searches Proposed In Boston?

Here's something I think is important to be watching, on the horizon. The article is a bit misleading, but let's examine it anyway.

Boston police are launching a program that will call upon parents in high-crime neighborhoods to allow detectives into their homes, without a warrant, to search for guns in their children's bedrooms.

Looking at this from a constitutional perspective, this does not fare well in the area of individual rights. I know it's a slippery slope argument, as many are these days. But this is troubling for more than just one reason. let's read on:

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.

Personally, I cannot be convinced that a lot of parents who live in high crime areas are going to consent to this. I do not think they're too worried about their kids having a gun, nor am I inclined to believe there is a sense of helplessness great enough for them to turn to the police for help. One thing is, these parents may be involved in something themselves, therefore reluctant to cooperate. The other thing is, many of these parents are in denial that their little angels would be involved in something like this, therefore, they too would be reluctant to cooperate.

Basically, I believe uncooperative parents will far outnumber those that cooperate, by a very large margin.

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.

My theory here is, most will be leaving. And if I am right in my theory, it's going to be a huge waste of time (and money).

But the bottom line here is not whether or not this is prudent and effective policy. Despite the intentions and efficacy of the aforementioned strategy, it comes down to one very important detail, summed up best here:

"I just have a queasy feeling anytime the police try to do an end run around the Constitution," said Thomas Nolan, a former Boston police lieutenant who now teaches criminology at Boston University. "The police have restrictions on their authority and ability to conduct searches. The Constitution was written with a very specific intent, and that was to keep the law out of private homes unless there is a written document signed by a judge and based on probable cause. Here, you don't have that."

I find it very difficult to argue against this stated claim.

Crime has been an issue in Boston and many other large cities, for as long as I can remember. Throwing out the constitution to fight it, really isn't acceptable to me.

In my view, it is comparable to the old principle put forth by those that support gun rights: If you take guns away from law abiding citizens then only criminals will have them. Likewise, in this scenario, it can be effectively argued that the only ones that will consent for their kids' rooms to be searched will be those that probably will not have anything to hide, anyway.

Make no mistake here, I do not take this position for the purpose of being known as "soft on crime". I take this position because the government likes to set precedents to strip freedoms away from its citizenry. This policy may not be intended for abuse here, but who is to say it won't be abused by the police down the road?

That's what I think the founding fathers had in mind when they wrote:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Those with a legal background can feel free to correct me on this, but I do not see how just living in a high-crime neighborhood constitutes probable cause. But as long as people consent to the search, it cannot be ruled unconstitutional.

All of this would be unnecessary if parents would search their own kids' rooms and take appropriate actions, if they found a weapon (of any kind). Therefore, this program would not be needed. It's a sad day when we believe that the government can parent our children better than we can.

1 comment:

Greg said...

And if I am right in my theory, it's going to be a huge waste of time (and money).

Hey, this is People's Republic of Massachusetts - we have no problem wasting your money.

That's really the problem with this program - not the constitution. Professor Nolan and others forget exception #1 to the warrant rule: consent. It's not an "end-run" around the constitution to ask the homeowner for consent to search. So, there is no civil rights issue here, unless you think the gov't wasting your tax money is a violation of civil rights - a point I might not argue with....

On the other hand, maybe this will work. It's the school cops who will be recommending which houses to search, so it's going to be limited to the "problem kids." And while many of the parents may refuse consent, some may be perfectly happy to have their little thug out of their house, in juvenile detention or jail. I'll take a "wait-&-see" approach, then. Maybe it will have some effect....