Come Back with a Warrant

Last month in Dallas:

Jamie Dolloff was expecting a routine code inspection to check smoke alarms and an electrical breaker box in her northeast Dallas apartment.

She said she wasn’t prepared for a loud banging on her door and police officers entering her apartment and searching her belongings.

“Cops were going through my bathroom drawers. Then I heard them going through my kitchen,” Ms. Dolloff said of the police who accompanied fire and code inspectors during the search.

“I told them, ‘You don’t have a warrant. You’d better stop what you’re doing’,” she said. “They shouldn’t have been going through my stuff.”

Ms. Dolloff is one of at least 21 Dallas residents who have filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development over the March 13 incident at Bent Creek Apartments.

The searches were part of a sweep instigated at the behest of a local, politically powerful homeowners’ association.

The situation in Dallas is part of a disturbing trend. Police and municipal officials are increasingly using utility, fire, or regulatory inspections to circumvent the need for a search warrant. Once inside, police who accompany the inspectors snoop around. Given that the resident of the home let them in voluntarily, anything incriminating that they might find is, in theory, fair game.

Two years ago, police in Manassas Park, Va., conducted a massive SWAT raid on a local pool hall involving about 70 officers. Though they were looking for drug activity, the raid was conducted under the auspices of an inspection from the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control, again negating the need for a search warrant.

Last April, police in Buffalo, N.Y., conducted a series of no-knock SWAT raids in low-income neighborhoods across the city, dubbed “Operation Shock and Awe.” A month later, many of the arrests were thrown out because of insufficient evidence or police errors in obtaining the search warrants. Police officials were livid – at the thrown-out arrests, not at the fact that many innocent people’s homes were wrongly raided, or that innocent people were wrongly arrested. The officials openly discussed using the city’s “Operation Clean Sweep” program to conduct future raids. “Operation Clean Sweep” sends police out with fire code inspectors, electric inspectors, social workers, and other non-police agencies. They tell residents they’re conducting routine inspections. Once inside, police search the homes for evidence of drugs or other illegal activity, again without a search warrant.