- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Earlier this month, Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) announced its newest crime-fighting initiative: the SafeHomes program, which encourages households to allow police to search their property for guns and drugs in return for partial amnesty. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said the program is aimed at parents who worry that their children or another family member has a gun in the house but do not want to face legal repercussions.

The program began Monday, when MPD officers passed out information at local Boys and Girls Clubs and police stations. They were met, however, with fierce opposition from libertarians and civil-rights activists, who posit that the program violates constitutional protection against illegal searches. The actual searches, which are set to being in two weeks, will begin in the Washington Highlands neighborhood in Southeast. MPD plans to continue the searches in parts of Northeast and Northwest. Officers will go door-to-door requesting entry into homes. If granted permission by the resident, the officers will search the premises for weapons. If drugs or other illegal contraband are in plain sight, that will be confiscated, too. Residents will not be criminally charged for any illegal activity — not for possessing guns, drugs or even for housing violations. The “partial” amnesty, however, will mean that, if any weapon is shown to have been involved in a crime, the owner will be prosecuted.

The program’s purpose is also its flaw: The point is to get guns and drugs off the street, not to arrest criminals. But the point of prosecuting crimes is to deter future crimes, and despite the stated goal, giving criminals amnesty is rewarding illegal behavior. Moreover, as the American Civil Liberties Union pointed out, wiping out urban violence should not come at the cost of our civil liberties. Despite the assurances from the Fenty administration, it is hard to imagine inappropriate searches won’t occur and that there won’t be pressure to bow to the searches. In addition to potential language barriers and general mischief, it’s practically impossible to guarantee that the person who permits the search is a legal resident of the home.

The SafeHomes program (like the gun buyback program) misses the mark. The police department should stop wasting tax dollars and untold manpower hours on initiatives that give criminals a free ride. Mayor Adrian Fenty should tell Chief Lanier to nix this intrusive program and go back to the anti-crime drawing board.

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