Making Homes Safer with Safe Homes: A Look at the Controversial Way Boston Attempted to Reduce Youth Violence

By Essinger, Jaclyn M. | Suffolk University Law Review, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Making Homes Safer with Safe Homes: A Look at the Controversial Way Boston Attempted to Reduce Youth Violence


Essinger, Jaclyn M., Suffolk University Law Review


"On March 27, [2007], an 11-year-old boy walked into the John P. Holland elementary school in Boston with a.44 caliber magnum handgun. The gun was taken out of his prepubescent hands before any violence occurred. On June 24, 8-year-old Liquarry Jefferson was needlessly shot to death by his 7-year-old cousin. Liquarry, who attended the Holland School, was one of the city's youngest victims in nearly a decade. Last week, a 16-year-old father with roots in Mattapan, stalked and killed a 17-year-old in broad daylight while horrified witnesses watched. These incidents send a profound message--the culture of violence is ultimately not about law and order; it is about the reestablishment of moral and cultural order and a search for new strategies that inform a meaningful effort to save a lost generation of urban youth." (1)

I. INTRODUCTION

Today, in the United States, a child or teenager is shot to death about every three hours--almost eight fatalities per day. (2) After a decline in violent crime during the 1990s, police across the country started to see an increase in violence; many officials attributed the uptick to a surge in violence committed by youth. (3) Beginning in 2005, Boston, Massachusetts, started experiencing a dramatic rise in its number of homicides. (4)

In Boston, the number of shooting victims under age seventeen tripled over the last five years. (5) Boston began experiencing an alarming trend of youth-on-youth violence in late 2005. (6) The BOSTON GLOBE reported that 2006 was the "bloodiest" year in over a decade. (7) This increase represents a setback from the early 1990s when Boston had success working with youth to decrease violence. (8)

Desperate to stop the youth-on-youth violence permeating the city, the Boston Police Department (BPD) unveiled the Safe Homes Initiative (Safe Homes) in November 2007--a program designed to reduce the number of weapons available to at-risk youth by confiscating firearms from juveniles without prosecuting them for illegal possession. (9) Under Safe Homes, the police targeted four neighborhoods in which they planned to seek consent from parents to search homes for illegal weapons. (10) Safe Homes is a community-policing based initiative that requires both participation and cooperation from members of the local communities. (11) However, the program was met with strong opposition from the communities it targets. (12) The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been especially vocal about its concerns, citing constitutional issues as well as its apprehension about the negative consequences that are likely to result from this program. (13)

This Note analyzes whether Safe Homes, as it was originally proposed by the BPD, is compatible with the Fourth Amendment's guarantee to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Part II.A details Safe Homes, the program it was modeled after, and similar programs initiated in other cities. (14) Part II.B provides an overview of the Fourth Amendment principles applicable to Safe Homes. (15) Part III analyzes Safe Homes to determine whether it comports with constitutional standards and whether the constitutional standards adequately protect residents targeted by Safe Homes. (16) Next, this Note explores both the negative and positive consequences likely to result from Safe Home and argues that the initiative will not work without the support of the Boston community. (17) Further, even with community support, there are changes that could be made to ensure Safe Homes is conducted properly. (18)

II. HISTORY

A. An Overview of the Programs

1. St. Louis's Firearm Suppression Program

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, St. Louis, Missouri experienced a significant increase in gun-related homicides, a majority of which involved young African-American males as the offender, the victim, or both. (19) In response to growing concerns over violence, the St. Louis Police Department (SLPD) implemented the Firearm Suppression Program (FSP) in 1994--an initiative aimed at reducing youth-related gun violence by confiscating guns from juveniles.

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