The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Colorado housing officials invite cops to perform warrantless searches on poor people

A Massachusetts State Police K-9 dog presses his nose against a car door jam as he finds a hidden stash of drugs during a training session in Revere, Mass., on May 30. (Charles Krupa/Associated Press)
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Yesterday we looked at a warrantless, mass search of Georgia high school students that was almost certainly unconstitutional, and that some students say included touching and probing of their genitals. Today, another disturbing story about what would seem to be clearly unconstitutional searches at a Colorado low-income apartment complex:

The Longmont Housing Authority says it was using the homes of low-income residents to train police drug dogs. There weren’t warrants, but simply a notice that the landlord was coming, and a police officer and drug dog would be there, too.
The letter to residents of The Suites low-income housing community starts with standard stuff, notifying them of an inspection. That’s what landlords across Colorado do.
Then it mentions that the police officer and drug dog. Nowhere in the letter are residents told that while they must let the landlord in, they do not have to allow the police officer and drug dog inside without a warrant. And then, if the officer does come inside, anything they find is fair game.

The head of the complex is Krystal Winship Erazo, and she appears to have no concept whatsoever of the Fourth Amendment.

“Two months ago, there were some rumors and some concerns about drug activity on the property and one way we found to address it was to invite a partnership with the Longmont Police Department – to invite the canines over on their training day,” Erazo said in an interview with 9NEWS. “Usually it helps the residents feel really secure in that we’re following up, we’re holding residents accountable, it’s an opportunity for the dogs to train.”

I’ll go ahead and write this, because it apparently needs to be written: Low-income people have the same rights as everyone else. Low-income people are not the equivalent of tackling dummies, or lab rats or volunteers on some police training course. You can’t use poor people to train your police dogs.

Erazo then spouts the hackneyed line of every Fourth Amendment authoritarian everywhere.

“If there is concern, it kind of sparks some curiosity for me,” Erazo said. “You know, what are they concerned about if (the officers’) only job is to ensure there aren’t drugs in the unit?”

It “sparks some curiosity” is a euphemistic way of saying “poor people who don’t want cops going through their stuff can only be up to no good.”

The complex has since halted the searches. But it makes you wonder where else this sort of thing is happening. I recall in researching my first book that in the 1980s and 1990s there were police raids on entire housing complexes. Every unit inside was hit. The raids were obviously illegal, but the people on the receiving end of them were usually powerless to do much about it.

Good on Denver’s 9 News for covering this story, and for making this point in particular:

It’s worth noting that the only reason this practice went public – and stopped – is because someone at the public housing complex knew her rights, and knew that she didn’t have to submit to a warrantless police search, no matter what the housing authority said.