Parents in Boston’s most crime-ravaged neighborhoods are being urged to let police search their children’s bedrooms without getting warrants in a controversial new effort to battle an epidemic of kid-on-kid gun violence.
The unusual request was made yesterday at Boston Police headquarters by BPD Commissioner Edward Davis and Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley after law enforcement officials met with clergy, community activists and the family of Steven Odom, the 13-year-old killed by stray gang gunfire last month.
“This is a tool to empower the parent who is afraid of the violence invading their family, their home,” said the Rev. Jeffrey Brown of the Ten Point Coalition. “I don’t know any mother who says I want my child to have guns in the house.”
The homes targeted are in four crime-plagued neighborhoods, Davis said. A search team of BPD school cops will approach the homes of at-risk teens based on community tips and ask a parent or guardian for permission to search the youths’ bedrooms. If guns are recovered, the youths will not be prosecuted – unless the weapons are later linked to a crime.
“We want to eliminate the Liquarry Jefferson tragedies from our city,” Brown said, referring to the 8-year-old boy shot dead this summer with a weapon his 7-year-old cousin found in his Dorchester home. Police believe the gun used in the crime belonged to the dead boy’s 15-year-old half-brother, a reputed gang associate.
Davis said the program is critical to keep kids safe. This year alone, six teens have been shot dead and 51 youths have been wounded by gunfire. Another 89 kids have been arrested and charged with committing various gun crimes on city streets.
“We’re giving mothers, who are trapped in situations that they don’t see any solution to, an out,” Davis said. “We are giving them an opportunity to have people come in, make the house safe, without sending the kid to jail.”
The plan, which is modeled after a similiar program launched in St. Louis in the 1990s, is being assailed by critics who say it could further erode community trust with police and negatively impact kids.
“We are fully behind any effort to reduce guns on the street, we just question whether or not this approach will sufficiently balance police searches with individual rights,” said Lisa Thurau-Gray, with the Suffolk University Juvenile Justice Center. “I want to make sure they make good on their promise not to arrest kids.”
But Kim Odom, who wears a picture of her slain son pinned over her heart, said she welcomes any program that can stem gun violence. Her son’s senseless murder provoked many parents to demand action from police.
“It’s not just about my Steven,” Odom said. “It’s about all the Stevens out there.”