On March 14, we reported on Washington, D.C.’s so-called “Safe Homes Initiative”--an ill-advised proposal aimed at reducing the District’s high rate of gun crime. Under the controversial plan, officers would show up at a residence and ask parents and guardians to allow “voluntary” searches of their homes and childrens’ (or other relatives’) bedrooms, to look for firearms. These searches would be done without notice or warrants.
In the weeks since it was announced, there has been much public outcry over the program’s proposed methods. There have been concerns over the fact that people may be too intimidated to deny police access to their homes, or may not understand the legal implications of their compliance with the search, which, despite assurances of amnesty, could include arrest and prosecution.
The program was to have started on March 24, but has been delayed due to the ongoing backlash.
It looks like the city has, in part, realized the error of its ways. This week, it was announced that D.C. officials have decided to significantly revise the program. Under the revised plan, searches will be conducted “by appointment only,” and only at a resident’s request. In other words, if residents want to have their house searched for guns, the new protocol requires them to call and ask.
In an article in today’s Washington Post, Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier took much of the blame for the controversy, acknowledging that more details should have been worked out before the announcement was made. “I should have realized that the program needed to go out with a whole lot more information,” Lanier said. “I should have put it out with very clear facts.”
Last November, we reported on a similar program being considered in Boston. That program was also delayed several times due to public resistance and outcry, but is now operational. The Boston program has yet to receive its first call to search a home.The new start date for the revised D.C. program is mid-June. Stay tuned.