Door-To-Door Police Searches: Say NO!

Help People Understand That They Can Say NO!

ACLU, DC ACORN Launch a Day to Educate the Community, Saturday, April 5, 2008

Training Session, 12:30-1:30, at St. James Episcopal Church, 222 8th Street NE; Canvassing, 2:30-4:30 in Eckington, Washington Highlands, Columbia Heights

Bill of Rights (stamp)

The Metropolitan Police Department says that officers will go to Eckington, Columbia Heights, Washington Highlands (and possibly other neighborhoods) to ask residents' permission to search their homes.

They will ask residents to sign a consent form, which answers some questions but not others. But even though the form says that someone could be charged with a crime as the result of the search, too many people may not understand what is written or take the time to read the form carefully.

The ACLU-NCA, DC ACORN and our coalition partners such as AYUDA, the National Black Police Assn and Metropolitan Washington Council, AFL-CIO want to ensure that residents really understand the consequences of agreeing to a search and that they realize they have an absolute right to refuse -- without retaliation of any kind.

At our April 5th training session, we'll give you what you need to talk to residents about their rights. After that we'll go into the neighborhoods and help people decide for themselves whether to have their homes searched.

Let's be precise: The ACLU is not opposed to a person -- once fully informed -- voluntarily inviting the police to search his or her home. But too many people believe the police have a right to do so without consent (the Constitution says they can't without a warrant) or that police will retaliate against them if they refuse (again, the Constitution says the police cannot lawfully do that).

The dangers in the MPD warrantless search program are apparent to many.

For example, in "Half-cocked D.C. gun searches," its March 25, 2008 editorial, The Examiner wrote:

No matter how much respect and support police officers deserve, there is still an intimidation factor involved any time an officer is on one's doorstep, such that the "permission" may not seem as voluntary as police mean it to be. So where does this end?

How long before [Police Chief] Lanier sends police into selected neighborhoods -- selected by whom and on what basis? -- asking to search homes for marijuana, terrorist literature, evidence of intent to commit a crime, fireworks or Cuban cigars? Lanier is establishing a precedent that would have horrified the founders of this republic.

In its March 27, 2008 alert entitled "A Knock at the Door," the nonpartisan, good government citizens group D.C. Watch wrote:

There's a knock on the door. It's the police, and they're smiling and friendly and armed and threatening. "Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Resident," they say. "We want you to let us in to search your house or apartment.

"We want to see what you keep in your drawers and laundry hampers and kitchen cabinets, and look through your closets and under your beds, rifle through the papers on your desk, look through your bookshelves to see whether you're hiding anything behind your books. And can you give us the combination to that safe? Of course, this is entirely voluntary on your part.

"But if you don't completely relinquish your privacy and open your house for us to look through all your things, you can see how that would make us awfully suspicious of you, don't you? We might be inclined to take an increased interest in you if you don't let us in.

"After all, if you're not doing anything illegal, you don't have anything to hide from us, do you? Now, let us assure you that we're just looking for guns in order to confiscate them before the Supreme Court finds the city's gun ban to be unconstitutional, but if we find anything illegal, guns or drugs or anything else, we'll just take it away, and we won't arrest you. You'll have immunity."

[The police are] not saying that what they found wouldn't provide evidence to go to court and get a search warrant, or that they wouldn't come back another time with that warrant. If your teen aged son has some marijuana under the mattress they'll have probable cause to come back in a month or two and see if he's replaced his stash, so they can arrest him and you.

Or the police could argue that your refusal to let them search your house is in itself probable cause to issue a search warrant, and they could easily find a judge whose ignorance of and contempt for the privacy rights of American citizens equals theirs to issue those warrants. Or they could say that they have a duty to report what they see in your home to DCRA or Child and Family Services.

But what should you care? Your life should be an open book to the authorities, shouldn't it? Or what do you have to hide? Don't you think the police should have the right to rummage through everything you have? Isn't all that nonsense about liberty and privacy, and your home being your castle, and freedom from invasive police surveillance, just a quaint, outdated relic of the past?

If you still cling to these antiquated notions, you live in the wrong town, and under the wrong administration. The Fenty administration has begun the "Safe Homes Initiative" and says that these friendly and, of course, completely voluntary police home invasions -- there's no intimidation at all when armed police officers are at your door suggesting that it would be in your best interest to admit them -- are all to protect you.

The "Safe Homes Initiative" is for your benefit, don't you see?

I don't know which is worse, my belief that the police will target home invasions against people whom they already suspect, but whose homes they have no good excuse to enter, or my fear that they will just conduct house raids randomly against completely honest and innocent citizens who will be rightfully afraid to deny them entry.

WRC, NBC4 briefly offered a survey on its website with these results:

If you thought there was a gun in your home, would you consent to a police search?

YES -- 1011 -- 32%
NO -- 2126 -- 68%

On The D.C. Politics Hour, WAMU 88.5FM's host Kojo Nnamdi replied to a caller who said she had nothing to hide,

"Something to hide? Everyone has something to hide. I thought that's why we have clothes."

To hear this segment online, including the presentation by ACLU-NCA Executive Director Johnny Barnes, click here.

For more information contact Johnny Barnes, Executive Director of the ACLU-NCA (National Capital Area) at (202) 457-0800 ext. 120, or write This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

To print out a copy in PDF of the information coalition partners will be handing out in the community, click here.

To print out a PDF of the No Consent notice (a "door knocker" that goes over the door knob), which we'll hand out with the information, click here (it may take a moment to load; the actual piece has a cut-out for the knob).

For a PDF of the No Consent notice meant to go on the door or in a window, click here (it may take a moment to load).

Please come join us in educating the community about their rights.

Also, please help us get the word out. Many of us would like to help our neighbors exercise their constitutional rights. Tell people about the April 5th training and urge them to join us.

For a copy of the two page flyer in PDF, click here.