Egleston only for gun-search program

Mayor Thomas Menino this week defended a controversial program that has drawn criticism from community members and local politicians as an unconstitutional invasion of home privacy by police. Boston police officers are launching a pilot program, dubbed "Safe Homes," to search people's homes and look for guns, but are only going into one neighborhood - Egleston Square - instead of four "high-risk neighborhoods" as initially planned.

"The problem is the perception is that we're going to break in doors," Menino said Tuesday after speaking to the Dorchester Board of Trade. "If we're invited in, we're going to go in. If we're not invited, we're not going in."

Tuesday morning, the Boston Globe reported that the program will be limited to Jamaica Plain's Egleston Square, where the program has drawn support, instead of where police officials were initially hoping to start the program, including that area and Bowdoin-Geneva, Grove Hall and parts of Mattapan. The program could start within the next week.

Critics have raised constitutional concerns, since police officers would be entering without a warrant, instead asking parents or legal guardians for permission to search their child's room for a firearm.

At several public forums over the recent months, opponents of the program hit the department for not being completely truthful about the program, and a top state senator, Dianne Wilkerson, said the program should only be used as a "last resort."

Police officials defended it as completely voluntary and said they would not filing charges against any children or causing problems for the family.

Menino maintained that police officers would have to be invited in.

"So what's the constitutionality issue? Wouldn't you rather take a gun off the street than have this issue?" he said.

Menino also said the city was not scaling the plan back and laid blame on the "guys making the most noise [who] are the ones everybody pays attention to.

"We're going to concentrate on one neighborhood this time, see what the issues are we have to change. But I think it'll be effective. You're only hearing from minority folks who are against this plan. I've got a lot of folks out there who are for it."

Even as Menino was making those comments, Councillor-at-Large Michael Flaherty, widely viewed as a contender in the next mayoral election, released a statement, charging that community input was asked for as an afterthought.

"The widespread opposition to the Boston Police Department's Safe Homes program should come as no surprise," he said. "Promoted as a 'community policing' mission to get guns off our city's most dangerous streets, Safe Homes is falling apart at the seams due to an unbalanced emphasis on 'policing' and a lack of 'community' input. It's time we put 'community' back in community policing."

Flaherty said city officials should instead partner with police and community members, and look at "year-round employment opportunities" for youths and extending community centers' hours of operations.

Council President Maureen Feeney, who represents District 3, took a softer tone, echoing Menino in noting that police only going to homes they were invited to "some degree addresses the constitutionality of the program."

Feeney admitted the police presence can sometimes seem unsettling. But, she added, she has been to community meetings where parents have stood up and said they were afraid of their own children.

"They're looking for help," she said. "It's about balance and how the program is implemented."

One of the more vocal opponents to the program, Jamarhl Crawford, Boston chairman of the New Black Panther Party, said limiting the program to only Egleston Square wasn't going far enough. "I view it as a clever way to make people less concerned," he said.

Crawford also disagreed with Menino, saying the majority of residents and others oppose the plan.

"It's only a few people who are for this," he said.