Madison police would enlist parental permission to search for guns in their children’s bedrooms...I understand the desire to move as quickly as possible when there's strong evidence indicating that someone is in possession of an illegal firearm. I understand that police and city officials are frustrated by the continued spike in crime in Madison. But is this really the best way to go about combating the problem? By circumventing, as far as I can tell anyway, one of the central tenants of the Constitution?
Utilizing parental consent to a search instead of a search warrant approved by a judge is a way to move quickly — before the guns can do damage — when police are tipped off to the location of a weapon in the hands of a juvenile.
Not only would this plan potentially be a major violation of the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, but it strikes me that it would only serve to foster greater mistrust between parents and their children, and/or children and their community.
I'm not saying we should never call out our young people on their more ridiculous or dangerous behavior. In fact, I suspect that a lack of good parental and community involvement is one of the key factors that leads some children to act out so rashly.
But is it going to help the situation to give police the power to rifle through a kids belongings without first obtaining a warrant? What happens when what they find is enough for them to level charges? Does the search just get thrown out for the lack of warrant?
What's more, when you really think about how such a policy would play out, you immediately run into hazards. How will police know/decide which kids to target? Do parents, friends, and other peers need to first come to the cops with information? Another option is one that The Sconz recently suggested:
Theoretically, the introduction of this plan suggests there is a group of cops who are keeping up with “gang politics,” per se. They are tuned into teen rivalries, they analyze youth arrests and try to figure out who is at risk to commit a crime with a firearm.But like Sconz there, I'm a bit dubious that such a program exists, or that if it does, it's that sophisticated. Which leads one to wonder if this new policy wouldn't be ripe for abuse. Would there be a system of checks in place to look into the reliability of sources and make sure the searches weren't disproportionately (and unjustly) targeting kids from certain neighborhoods? That they wouldn't just be the result of petty vendettas?
I recognize that this is a terrible situation to be in, when things have gotten so bad that such ideas are being floated. And there are no easy solutions. But I can't help but cringe when yet another policy is invented that aims to take away the essential rights of minors. There's no better way to further piss off and disenfranchise them, which is precisely what we ought to be working to prevent.
So I have some questions, and until such time as those questions are satisfactorily answered, I have to object to this particular facet of Mayor Dave's new plan. I'm pleased that he and other city officials appear to be taking seriously the problem, but I worry that they're falling into knee-jerk reactions and scare mongering to address it.