FERGUSON: If the New York City Police Department wants to search your apartment, there’s a good chance they’ll barge in — literally — between 5 and 6 in the morning.
The force being used when they enter somebody’s house is really pretty massive.
FERGUSON: David Rankin is a civil rights attorney. He says even under the best circumstances, the searches the NYPD conducts are anything but orderly.
It’s not like they knock on the door and you open it for them and they politely go through your desk drawer. I mean, this is guns in your face, thrown to the ground, which is a very jarring and very invasive procedure.
FERGUSON: Especially jarring and invasive if it’s done illegally. But it happens. A lot, according to a report released this week from the Civilian Complaint Review Board, or CCRB. That’s the city’s independent agency that investigates police abuse. The report found that in almost 200 cases, basic misunderstandings about the law resulted in home entries without consent. Warrantless searches, which the 4th Amendment is supposed to protect against.
Improper entries into a person’s home is one of the most serious violations of a person’s constitutional right.
FERGUSON: Mina Malik is the executive director of the CCRB. She says it all comes down to training, and the CCRB investigation found a huge oversight there. The NYPD’s guidebook for police officers is missing basic information on when it’s legal to search someone’s home. And most of these violations are taking place in the homes of people of color. Over half the victims of improper searches are African American.
The public loses trust in the police department when officers act unlawfully, but particularly, it’s most egregious when they violate the sanctity of a person’s home.
FERGUSON: Delores Jones-Brown runs the Center for Race, Crime, and Justice at John Jay College. She says like incidents of physical violence, improper searches contribute to the lack of trust between police and black communities.
If the police come into your home and they’re not supposed to be there, that is, that’s violence. It’s not just a, it’s a sense of being violated, but it is, you know, it’s a form of violence.
FERGUSON: And that harm can be beyond repair.
Hopefully there won’t be visible scars and physical injury, but the damage that it does to one’s ability to trust the police is often irreparable.
FERGUSON: But the CCRB report offers some places to start. First, some near-term goals, like adding more body cameras, better enforcing existing protocols for lawful searches, and better training — or retraining. And civil rights attorney David Rankin agrees that any real change at the NYPD must begin from the inside.
If there is found to be a, an improper search or if there is found to be an improper execution of a warrant, there needs to be consequences to that. And that’s really the way that the officer’s behavior and the NYPD’s kind of conduct will change.
FERGUSON: But Delores Jones-Brown at John Jay says that until those trainings happen, and until there’s a broader cultural shift in police departments to value everyone’s civil rights equally — black people may continue to feel unprotected by police, no matter where they are.
The notion is, hey, I can’t escape police contact on the street, I can’t escape police contact in my home…where do I go?
FERGUSON: So training may be a first step, and it’s good that the CCRB has done this analysis. But now it’s up to the NYPD to try to rebuild the trust that’s been lost. Katie Ferguson, Columbia Radio News.