- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 3, 2008

Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier yesterday blamed herself for the backlash against a new crime-stopping initiative to search homes for illegal guns, saying she never intended for officers to knock on doors, then ask to enter without a warrant.

“We should have announced this with a lot more information,” she told The Washington Times. “I take full responsibility for not announcing this with more information.”

Chief Lanier said she did not properly explain the Safe Homes initiative before it began March 24, which led to complaints from residents, the American Civil Liberties Union and D.C. Council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat.

The March 12 press release from Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat, announcing the program stated “officers will go door-to-door … to ask residents if they will allow officers to do security checks of their homes.”

Asked why the police department’s press office confirmed that officers would be asking to search homes without warrants in exchange for amnesty from certain gun and drug charges, Chief Lanier said “I didn’t have all the details.”

ACLU National Capital Area legislative counsel Stephen Block said Chief Lanier told members of a discrimination task force Monday that the searches would be done by appointment only.

But Mr. Block said city officials cleared only a small hurdle by making the searches appointment-only and that they have yet to address the legal and ethical concerns about the program.

“There’s been a lack of transparency from the get-go,” he said.

Last week, ACLU officials walked through the Washington Highlands neighborhood in Southeast with a bullhorn urging residents not to participate.

The neighborhood is the first of three to be targeted in the first phase of the citywide program, which will later branch out to Columbia Heights in Northwest and Eckington in Northeast.

The ACLU and the D.C. affiliate of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, are sponsoring an information session on the program Saturday.

Police officials apparently realized soon after the program was announced that they had failed to prepare residents.

An internal police department document, dated March 28 and obtained by The Times, states that characterizing the program as a door-to-door effort to get consent to search homes was “an inaccurate description.”

Chief Lanier said her plan was to have officers join clergy and community leaders in telling residents about the program and to distribute search-consent forms but not ask to search homes.

A similar program announced in November in Boston — after which the D.C. plan was modeled — was delayed because of similar resistance from civil rights groups. And a scaled-back version was started last week.

Chief Lanier said she had been in contact with Boston police officials and expected to face similar issues. The chief also said she plans to start Safe Homes differently in each neighborhood, based on community input.

“I’ve said consistently that I can’t do things exactly the same way in every neighborhood,” she said. “I have to let the residents in the areas we’re working let us know what they’re comfortable with.”

The program is one of three new ones to complement Chief Lanier’s signature All Hands on Deck initiative, in which the entire 3,900-officer department works patrols shifts over a three-day period.

This year, the department added a new crime-tip hot line and will later offer a number that allows tips to be submitted by text message. The department will also apply the city’s data-tracking system to gun recovery.

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