Boston Gun Search Divides Parents Boston police are asking parents for permission to search children's rooms for firearms. Some parents welcome the effort to keep guns out of the hands of youths. Others see it as a clear invasion of privacy.
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Boston Gun Search Divides Parents

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Boston Gun Search Divides Parents

Boston Gun Search Divides Parents

Boston Gun Search Divides Parents

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Boston police are asking parents for permission to search children's rooms for firearms. Some parents welcome the effort to keep guns out of the hands of youths. Others see it as a clear invasion of privacy.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Some residents of Boston are bristling at an unusual proposition - police officers are asking parents to invite them into their homes to search their kids' rooms for guns.

It's part of a controversial new program: If you let the officers inside, they will grant immunity for any weapons found.

NPR's Tovia Smith reports.

TOVIA SMITH: To police, it's a no-brainer. Everyone wants guns off the streets and out of kids' hands so why wait for a tragedy, says Police Deputy Superintendent Gary French, why not let us search your kid's rooms before there's trouble?

Mr. GARY FRENCH (Deputy Superintendent, Bureau of Field Services, Boston Police): It sounds bizarre, but it's going to be very low key. It's going to be friendly. It won't be the type of search where we tear apart the house. We're referring to it as a soft search, where we're going and look under the mattress, under the bed. If we find a gun, we confiscate the gun, no charges filed.

SMITH: Kids could be charged for crimes committed with that gun, but not for possession of a firearm, or even, for small amounts of drugs.

Police are hoping that will convince parents to request searches of their own homes, for example, single moms who may be scared to confront their own kids. Police will also be taking tips from teachers and neighbors.

Mr. BRANCH: I mean, ideally, it'll be self-referrals. But, some of the parents and guardians are the last to know that the kid has a gun. They're clueless as to what the kid is involved with.

SMITH: When police get a tip, French says, two officers will knock on the door and ask parent's permission to come in and search. He insists, no will mean no, but many don't buy it.

(Soundbite of protest)

Ms. SHERYL LAURIN(ph)(Community activist): And one of your rights, is the right not to incriminate yourself.

SMITH: Opponents of the program like community activist Sheryl Laurin held a rally outside police headquarters last week.

City Councilor Charles Yancey says when police suspect a kid has a gun, they should get a warrant and do a legal search.

Mr. CHARLES YANCEY (Boston City Council): This begins a very slippery slope violated our human and constitutional rights.

SMITH: Yancey calls the notion that the search would be voluntary a farce. Two seventh graders invited to the rally, George Webb(ph) and Marcus Fergus(ph) agree when police knocked and asked to come in, they say, no one's going to say no.

Mr. GEORGE WEBB(ph) (Seventh Grade Student): Yeah, most parents are scared. When you see a cop, you're scared. You're automatically going to say yes.

Mr. MARCUS FERGUS(ph) (Seventh Grade Student): Three, big cops and one, little person, there's nothing you can really do, but served this up and say, yes. This is so intimidating.

SMITH: These boys say they also don't buy police promises that they won't be charged for having guns.

Mr. FERGUS: I believe, yeah, yeah, blah, blah, blah, they ain't going to stand up and blah, but, before we know it, they might just try to pull a fast one and charges for the gun.

Mr. WEBB: Living on a house, actually, we can go to jail for it.

Mr. FERGUS: Put some down.

Mr. WEBB: They 'aint going to put some weed on the house, and we don't even know, we could go to jail for it.

Mr. KENNETH GRUBBS(ph) (Police Officer): We're not going to set you up. (Unintelligible)

SMITH: Officer Kenneth Grubbs was at the rally trying reassure opponent.

(Soundbite of police siren)

Mr. GROVES: We're not going to force our way into the apartment, because if Mom says no, that's the end of conversation. That's it.

SMITH: Police say they expected resistance, a similar program in D.C. was called-off last week, just days after it was launched, because of community outcry.

In Boston, Police have responded by scaling the program back from four neighborhoods to just one, and they're allowing a community representative to accompany officers on searches.

That was enough to convince several prominent community leaders including, Minister Don Muhammad.

Minister DON MUHAMMAD (Community Minister): Everyone that wears a blue uniform is not a rogue cop. The African-Americans should jump at this, knowing the gravity of having guns in a home. I have preached too many funerals.

SMITH: Since police launched the program last week, they're still waiting to make their first search, they're up against not only widespread distrust, but also a deep-seated, anti-snitch culture in Boston that may keep them waiting for a while for their phones to start ringing.

Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.

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