Inside Bay Area
April 10, 2008
A six-month pilot program where Oakland police officers would knock on doors and ask permission to search homes for guns got the green light from the City Council’s public safety committee Tuesday night.
It goes to the full council Tuesday, when the council will meet at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza.
The consent-to-search program, as it is called, is based closely on a similar effort launched in St. Louis in 1994 and on ongoing programs in Boston and Washington, D.C. The idea is simple: To ask parents for permission to search their homes for weapons their children may be hiding.
Under the program, officers would request permission to search homes for guns. Guns would be taken away, but officers would not pursue prosecution unless the weapon was tied to a crime.
The St. Louis effort fizzled after initial success, but Oakland’s Deputy Police Chief David Kozicki said that in Washington, police officers say they cannot keep up with requests from parents to search their homes. Such is the interest in the program, he said.
Councilwoman Patricia Kernighan (Grand Lake-Chinatown), who is on the public safety committee, said she was surprised to hear that and hoped Oakland might see the same results.
“I think it’s worth trying and seeing what the community reaction is,” she said. “If it’s embraced as a way to get guns off the street, great. If people don’t want to cooperate, then we don’t continue the program.’Councilwoman Desley Brooks (Eastmont-Seminary) asked the Police Department to look into the possibility of a consent-to-search program in February.
The police department is proposing a six-month trial period for the program beginning in either June or July, probably somewhere in West Oakland.
Lt. Kirt Mullnix said the program, which would be launched during summer break, would largely be operated by Campus Life and School Safety (CLASS) officers, who normally patrol in and around schools.
It also could involve department problem-solving officers as well. All told, six to 10 officers would be used in the effort, Mullnix said. He didn't anticipate additional overtime being billed to the city.
Consent-to-search programs are not without controversy. Oakland civil-rights attorney John Burris criticized the idea when asked about it in February. And the American Civil Liberties Union has protested programs in other cities. Mark Schlosberg, police practices policy director for the ACLU of Northern California, said the organization would pay close attention to what happens in Oakland.
"There are a whole host of reasons why people might not want police to search their homes," he said. "But people might not know they have a right not to consent."
City and police officials stressed it would be important to educate community members about how the program works before implementing it and said providing education and outreach would be a priority.
Under the program, if guns were found, police would take them away, but not pursue prosecution unless the gun in question was tied to a shooting or homicide.
``The important thing is you're looking at removing guns from the streets to prevent future violence,'' Mullnix said. ``You're giving up arrest and prosecution for less violence in the future. It's another tool we can use. There's a lot of gun violence in Oakland and that's why we're trying it.''