By law, police need a judge-issued warrant to search your home in all but the rare case when someone might be in immediate danger—but a review of the NYPD's actual practices shows something quite different, with police making unlawful entries in far-from-emergency situations. The Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent city agency tasked with assessing claims of police misconduct, substantiated 180 of the 1,762 complaints of improper entries and searches that it investigated between 2010 and 2015, and found that in these cases, officers often entered residences without warrants or consent, and sometimes used force and intimidation tactics to get consent.
In 157 of these 180 cases, residents did not provide voluntary consent to an officer's entrance and search of their home (doing so would render a warrantless search legal), and indeed, in many cases they vocally refused the officer's entrance.
The CCRB's report describes one instance in which the police arrested a young man for a drug-related crime and took him to the precinct, where they took his house keys and sent officers back to his home to search for drugs. (Officers said they got his consent to search his house for drugs, but according to the CCRB that consent was involuntary, as it was given while he was in custody and being interrogated.) Police entered his home with his house keys and encountered his mother, who repeatedly refused to sign a form allowing the officers to search the place without a warrant. At one point, an officer said, "Goddamn it, you fucking Haitian, just do it."
In a 2013 case, a man was woken up by repeated banging on the door, which he opened to find himself face-to-face with the barrel of an officer's gun. Police had traced the signal of a stolen phone to the barbecue grill outside his house, and they accused the man's son of stealing the phone. When the man said that his son was at basketball practice and that the officers could not search his home, one said, "You’re fucking lying...I can do anything I want," before entering and searching the house with his gun drawn while the man's five-year-old son and daughter looked on. Police later determined that an unknown person of no relation to the residents of the house had placed the stolen phone in the grill.
These are just two of the dozen-plus incidents detailed in the 111-page report, and those are just a fraction of the 180 cases in which the CCRB has determined that the NYPD's warrantless searches were illegal. In more than half of these cases, the victims of the unlawful entries and searches were black, while the officers were white. Nearly half of the cases occurred in Brooklyn.
An NYPD spokesperson told the New York Times that officers have been disciplined in 64 percent of the 180 cases noted in the CCRB's report, and that the department is "going to decide if this is something that needs to be more clearly clarified, in terms of either interpreting the exigent circumstances that drive a lot of these or having officers properly explaining the reasons for their actions."
This report comes just two weeks after a federal monitor's findings that many members of the NYPD are still clueless about stop and frisk reforms, and continue to perform illegal street stops—in a third of street stops documented over a three-month period in 2015, officers failed to document reasonable suspicion and were thus unconstitutional. That report also said that the CCRB was not investigating complaints of racial profiling by the NYPD, but that after meeting with the federal monitor, CCRB chair Richard Emery agreed to notify the department's Internal Affairs Bureau whenever it receives such complaints.
In this latest report, the CCRB is making a series of recommendations to the NYPD that include expanding the department's body cam program to home entries, revising the training curriculum for new officers, and disciplining officers who conduct unlawful entries and searches more seriously.
In a statement, Emery said that instances like those detailed in this report "seriously erode public trust and confidence in the police." Jose Lopez, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, said that "improper home searches are just the tip of the iceberg of unconstitutional searches being conducted by the NYPD. In report after report, these police searches that fail to abide by law on the streets and elsewhere continue with impunity. It could not be clearer that neither training nor internal NYPD rules are solving this crisis."