This article describes the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department's Firearm Suppression Program (FSP), a program that seeks parental consent to search for and seize guns from juveniles, considers criticisms of its methods and purposes, and presents a plan for evaluating the operation and outcome of this and similar programs.
The FSP is operated by St. Louis' Mobile Reserve Unit, a police squad that responds to pockets of crime and violence throughout the city. The search of a home for guns under the FSP can be initiated by citizen requests for police service, reports from other police units, or by information gained from other investigations. Once the unit receives a report, two officers visit the residence in question, speak with an adult resident, and request permission to search the home for illegal weapons. An innovative feature of the program is its use of a "Consent to Search and Seize" form to secure legal access to the residence. Residents will not be charged with the illegal possession of a firearm if they sign the consent form. The program has generated little criticism from those people who have given their consent for searches, but the American Civil Liberties Union has questioned whether consent can really be voluntary with two police officers standing at a citizen's door. Other critics have charged that the program uses warrantless searches as part of a general firearms confiscation effort that deprives citizens of the right to protect themselves against crime. Although the police have denied such claims, the issues raised have some merit. The program has attracted widespread interest and the initial experience has been positive (several hundred guns have been confiscated without complaints from citizens), but it remains to be determined how long such an effort can be sustained and how effective it is in reducing the risk of firearm violence. The criticisms of the FSP provide important starting points for evaluation. A complete evaluation should contain both a detailed process evaluation that focuses on the program's procedures and purposes, as well as an equally rigorous outcome evaluation, which would examine the program's effects on youth firearm possession, personal security, and community safety. 3 tables, 6 figures, and 35 footnotes