Police Department Ends Its “Voluntary Search” Program

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This program only lasted about five days, so I didn't have time to write about it before it was canceled for being dumb. But it was sufficiently dumb that I'm still going to write about it.

On December 5, Wisconsin Public Radio reported that police in Beloit were "launching a new effort to reduce gun violence in which they're asking city residents to volunteer to have police search their homes for guns." The plan was apparently to … well, that's basically it.

Thinking about how they might have expected this program to operate is frankly hurting my head a little.

Presumably, people who have committed a crime (with or without a gun) are not going to volunteer to have police come over and just rummage around to see what turns up. Such people often do, surprisingly, consent to searches when they shouldn't, but I doubt they ever go to the trouble of calling to invite the cops over to their house so they can consent.

People who have not committed a crime can be divided into those who own guns and those who do not. In my limited experience, people who own guns generally know where those guns are, and do not need police to come over and help find them. Those who do not own guns do not own guns, and therefore also do not need police to come over and help find guns they don't have. 

I think that just about covers it.

Certainly, the police chief's effort to explain the program made no more sense than the above. He did admit that he didn't expect "the phone to be ringing off the hook" with invitations. What did he expect? Good question. As the report phrased it, he hoped "the program [would] encourage people to think about gun violence as an infectious disease like Ebola, and a home inspection like a vaccine to help build up the city's immune system."

So in this analogy, the town would deliberately inject weakened police officers into people's homes to trigger a response that would make residents better prepared to fend off full-strength police officers that might invade their homes later. Hm. No, that doesn't work. Maybe he meant something like white blood cells. Okay, in this analogy, the police are like giant white blood cells that patrol the city's homes and destroy any Ebola guns they find inside before they can shoot other homes and create more … oh, &$^# it.

Setting aside the health-care analogy, what exactly did police hope to find if people volunteered? Well, "[Chief] Jacobs says he hopes some searches will result in the discovery of guns [that residents] didn't know were in their own homes," the report states. That's a category of people I guess I didn't anticipate above: people who have guns they don't know about. Well, mercy me, how'd that get there? Grandpa must have brought that back from France! Take it away, officer, before somebody gets the Ebola!

The report continues: "He said there's also a chance they'll find guns linked to crimes." Might that possibly be the main motive, in fact? Yes. "That's really what we're looking for," Chief Jacobs admitted, although he quickly recovered, sort of, and claimed the motive was child protection. "Maybe we'll find a toy gun that's been altered by a youngster in the house—and we know the tragedies that can occur there on occasion." The tragedies that have occurred due to youngsters altering toy guns to shoot real bullets? Or the ones where police shoot youngsters with toy guns because … oh, &$^# it, again.

Anyway, this lasted maybe five days before officials said it would be canceled. The city manager said the plan wasn't vetted through the city's legal department, making it sound sort of like the plan's fault. But he also semi-defended it. "There was a general perception among many in the public that the police department was going to use this program to perform some kind of general sweeps or unauthorized searches of people's [homes] to confiscate their firearms," he said. "That's not what was intended." No, they were going to ask first. We get that.

Just to repeat some legal advice: do not talk to the police; if you must talk to them, don't consent to anything, no matter how innocent you are; and above all, do not invite armed white blood cells into your home to look for Ebola, or whatever. It's just not likely to go well.