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LONGMONT, COLO. - Some powerful people in Longmont appear to have forgotten that the Constitution still exists.
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 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.
Specifically, the letter says:
“This is a notice to visit your unit on Wednesday, May 10th, between 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. It is helpful if you are present so we can visit with you personally, but it is not mandatory. Please note that we will occasionally have K-9 units with LPD accompany us for purposes of training and compliance. Apartments will be chosen at random. If you see the K-9, please don’t engage the dog, and please keep your dog on leash well away from the officer....”
The director of operations of the Housing Authority, Krystal Winship Erazo, says they've never had a resident refuse the police search, which, according to Longmont Police, happened once before. Perhaps, residents didn’t refuse the entry because they didn't know they could.
“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."
Yes, the head of a public housing agency in Colorado said they use the homes of low-income people to train police dogs.
Next checked with several housing authorities in the metro area on Tuesday. The spokespeople for those organizations – including Denver and Aurora -- said they don't do this, have never heard of anyone doing this, and one housing authority official laughed out loud at the thought.
Landlords can schedule inspections, and carpet replacement, and painting. They cannot schedule searches by police drug dogs. That's what warrants are for; the Longmont Housing Agency, however, says renters shouldn't have a problem if they don't have something to hide.
"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?"
That, of course, is completely not how America works, and as of now, it's no longer how Longmont works. Longmont Police originally told 9NEWS they were comfortable with this arrangement, having participated in that previous round of searches, but late Tuesday, following questions, they said they're finished. Longmont Police say that in the searches they did before, they did not make any arrests and they did not uncover any drugs.
Officials in Longmont are trying to figure out who at the police department knew this was happening.
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.
"This is a rights issue, not whether or not you have something to hide,” Ray Appling said. “There’s a police officer at your door. That’s very intimidating. You feel like, ‘Oh God, I have to comply. I have to let these people in and if I don’t, they’re going to think something and they’re going to look for a reason to get rid of me and I think that’s completely unfair and not right.”
Next is still trying to learn more about who at the Longmont Police Department and City Hall knew this was happening.