When the four police detectives arrived at the woman's door, they had a list of names they wanted to ask about. They also had a cell phone number they wanted to identify. But they did not have a warrant.
The homeowner didn't know the names; her daughter didn't either. But the daughter did recognize the cell number as belonging to an old phone of hers. So the cops asked to search the house.
"When the woman refused because the police did not have a search warrant," reads a report, "the detective called his supervisor. After reaching his supervisor, the detective told the complainant that he was ordered to conduct a 'walk through' of the house. The detectives searched the entire house, believing that an order from their supervisor and knowing that the daughter's old cell phone number was being used by questionable individuals justified a warrantless search of the complainant's home."
The report was one of two policy studies issued in 2013 by the Washington, D.C. Office of Police Complaints, the head of which—Philip Eure—was just named to be New York City's first NYPD inspector general.
The de Blasio administration's naming of Eure (under the 2013 law creating the IG, the mayor's commissioner of the Department of Investigations—not the mayor himself—made the appointment) brings us full circle from last spring. The moment when the 2013 mayoral campaign began to take its defining shape was when the debate over whether to install an inspector general broke into the open.
The tabloids murdered Christine Quinn when—having been beat up in every forum she attended for her association with Mayor Bloomberg and desire to keep Ray Kelly on as NYPD commissioner—she shifted to support the bill. John Liu, the most liberal major candidate, opposed the bill because he thought it a ploy to lessen mayoral accountability. Bill Thompson, who ended up placing second, backed an IG but wanted them to report to the police commissioner. Only Bill de Blasio backed the proposal as written: an independent inspector general outside One Police Plaza.
Reading reports at the Washington OPC website, it seems that office is a hybrid of the two police oversight bodies New York will now have: OPC took citizen complaints, as New York's Civilian Complaint Review Board has done for years, and made broader policy recommendations, as the inspector general will be charged with doing.
What's also apparent is that the sound and fury over the IG—which foes suggested would weaken the police command structure—was out of step with reality.
In its report about warrantless searches, the DC office recommended that the police develop criteria for when a warrantless searches are OK, train officers on it, discipline those who do such a search when it's not justified, and require cops to document those searches when they occur. None of the ideas are binding, none ignore the possibility that warrantless searches may at times be necessary, and don't bind the police in any way except to protect the Fourth Amendment (which is kind of important) and the admissibility of evidence they gather during future "walk throughs."
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