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Police Complaints Board Recommends Steps to Address Warrantless Entries into Private Homes by MPD Officers

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Police Complaints Board Recommends Steps to Address Warrantless Entries into Private Homes by MPD Officers

Proposals seek to promote better training, advance constitutional policing

(Washington, DC)  – The Police Complaints Board (PCB), the governing body of the Office of Police Complaints (OPC), today submitted a report and recommendations to Mayor Vincent C. Gray, the Council of the District of Columbia, and Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Cathy L. Lanier proposing ways to address unconstitutional entries and searches of private homes made by some MPD police officers.

Over the years, OPC has received a number of complaints from District residents alleging that MPD officers improperly entered their homes without a search warrant issued by a court.  At least 12 of these complaints raised valid questions about the lawfulness of the officer’s entry.  The officers in those cases apparently believed that a search warrant was not necessary and their actions were justifiable, mostly due to the presence of an “exigent,” or urgent, situation. 

Some examples of exigent circumstances that permit warrantless entries under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution include entering into a private home to provide emergency aid, protect an occupant from imminent injury, or prevent the immediate destruction of evidence.

In cases investigated and resolved by OPC, the agency sustained police misconduct allegations that MPD officers unlawfully entered into complainants’ homes without a warrant or exigent circumstances.

In addition, upon a review of the Department’s policies and training, PCB found that MPD does not provide enough instruction to its sworn force about when warrantless entries into the private homes of citizens are justified.

To that end, PCB recommends in its report that MPD develop and implement a general order detailing the circumstances under which a police officer may enter a home without a warrant.  PCB also urges the Department to better train the force on this subject and continually monitor changes in the law dealing with exigent circumstances.

PCB further recommends that MPD appropriately discipline officers who conduct warrantless entries or searches when no evidence of exigent circumstances exists.  Finally, PCB proposes that MPD officers should be required to document, in writing, the basis for entering a private residence pursuant to exigent circumstances.

“Providing better training and developing a general order on warrantless entries for officers will aid them in carrying out their duties all the while protecting the rights of the public,” said Philip K. Eure, OPC’s executive director.  “By implementing our recommendations, MPD can help ensure that its officers are engaging in constitutional policing.”

To view a full copy of PCB’s full report and recommendations, visit our website at www.policecomplaints.dc.gov.