Press Briefing by Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros and Acting Associate Attorney General Bill Bryson
The Briefing Room
10:38 A.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: A huge crowd today, the Saturday gang. (Laughter.) You're all so quiet.
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros, and the Acting Associate Attorney General Bill Bryson are going to brief you on their report to the President on fighting violent crime in the public housing projects. So, without further ado, Secretary Cisneros.
SECRETARY CISNEROS: Thank you, Dee Dee.
The last weeks have seen an eruption of violence in Chicago's public housing, of which has been unprecedented. Last weekend alone, some 15 shootings and five deaths in the public housing developments along the State Street Court, or principally at Robert Taylor Homes and Stateway Homes.
It prompted the President to direct the attentions of the Attorney General and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to several elements of this crisis. First, to devise a policy on the sweeps, and secondly, to look at the other elements of security and community development that need to occur to stop the violence.
Unfortunately, the violence we see in Chicago is not limited to Chicago public housing. While it may not be on as intense a scale in other places at this time, it exists in many communities across the country, and Washington, D.C. as well, as many of us know.
The President directed the Attorney General and the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to devise a policy that could be used nationally so that other housing authorities across the country would be able to act upon it; a policy that would look at the nature of sweeps that might be necessary and do it within constitutional limits.
As you know, a judge, Judge Anderson in Chicago last week ruled that the sweeps as they were being conducted exceeded constitutional limits. And so work has been done over the course of the last week to devise a national policy. That policy has essentially five elements. You heard the President describe it in general terms in his radio address. I'd like to be a little more specific on the elements of the policy.
First, the policy assumes that it is essential to get control of the lobbies of buildings. So substantial effort is placed, and resources, to focus on access, entryways, metal detectors, guards, and control of lobbies.
The precise policy on sweeps includes the following four elements. Sweeps can occur in the common areas of buildings. This is important, because of what we have seen in recent weeks in Chicago includes the use of post boxes, mail boxes, as hiding places for guns, as well as stairwells, air vents and electrical outlets used as hiding places for weapons as well as drugs. So it is not insignificant to be able to sweep the common areas. That was allowed before and it continues to be.
Secondly, obviously, sweeps can occur in vacant units. I was along with a sweep team last Sunday evening in Chicago that netted something on the order of 25 weapons just Sunday night --heavy weapons, rifles, 30-06 weapons with scopes, automatic weapons and revolvers -- just on Sunday night. The stock room at the police substation of the Chicago Housing Authority is full; literally 1,000 weapons that have been secured principally in vacant units.
And I'll say more about the issue of vacancies in a moment. But sweeps through vacant units can be very productive because the gangs tend to put the weapons -- locate these caches of weapons in vacant units.
Fourthly, sweeps can occur where consent has been given. That consent can take several forms. It may be consent that is given in advance as an element of a lease where people in the agreement to sign a lease for a building sign a consent that would allow searches for weapons just as they allow consent for searches -- for maintenance problems, inspections that are now a standard part of a lease. And we expect that this will be decided on a local basis, sometimes as local as the residence voting themselves in a building whether or not they want that as a precondition on the lease. We believe that would be important in a court test on this subject, that the residents voted that kind of element in a lease in advance.
But another approach to consent is what I witnessed myself on Sunday, and that is leases that are signed on the spot as a police team arrives at a unit. What you find -- you say, well, that's surprising that a resident would allow a search if they know there is contraband in their apartment. Frequently, they don't know that there's contraband there. It may be a mother who has small children, but a relative, a boyfriend, an older member of the family who has hidden guns there that the family doesn't know. What I witnessed on Sunday was the discovery of heroin in bags hidden in a mother's chest of drawers -- bureau -- by a son who was in the room and when it was discovered, readily admitted it was his. The mother did not know that it was there. She had consented to the search. So it is not insignificant to search when consent has been given. And that, obviously, meets the test of the law.
Finally, the fourth element of searches are warrantless searches in exigent circumstances. The key word there, of course, is exigent. It has to do with what has occurred -- whether or not there has been shooting, for example, from the upper stories of the building, and how massive it might be, how frequent it might be, and how timely the response is. All of those are subjective judgments, but the judge's order indicated that under circumstances of exigency, these sweeps can occur.
So those are the elements, then, of clarification on the sweeps policy. The bottom line is they allow for the continuation, the use of that particular vehicle, sweeps, within certain circumstances. And they are an instrument available not only to the city of Chicago, but to other housing authorities that want to use that instrument.
Acting Associate Attorney General Bill Bryson is here in the event you have some questions. But I'd like to follow up on the second aspect of this beyond sweeps to what is essentially a strategy of providing a down payment on the crime bill.
Yesterday in Chicago, the mayor and Vince Lane, the chairman of the Housing Authority, and myself announced a series of initiatives that represent cooperation between the federal government and the city of Chicago.
You have in front of you a handout that I'd like to call to your attention because it speaks to the other elements of what have to occur. The first page is called enforcement measures. The second is called prevention measures. Roughly speaking, they group into those two categories. The first one are measures associated with security and safety and taking control of buildings and their surrounding areas. And the second revolve around recreation, youth programs, antigang strategies, drug control and other elements that are preventative in character.
Let me just quickly give you the highlights of this, because I think it underscores what the President has said all along in his fight against crime and, particularly, in his pressing for the crime bill that while we focus on security measures, we must also focus on the balancing of some preventative measures.
On the security side, HUD is putting in new funds as well as advancing some CHA unobligated funds, totaling $10 million for the creation of 10 additional BITE teams which will augment two BITE teams -- that stands for Building Interdiction Team Effort -- already in existence.
Now, let me just say quickly what those are. They're 18-member teams: eight members of the Chicago Police Department with a sergeant or nine Chicago police; eight members of the Chicago Housing Authority Police and a sergeant or nine CHA police team up together and literally arrive at a building, take control of the lower floors of the building, and then proceed on searches within the limits of what has been described.
I went with one of those teams on a raid on Sunday night. This was one where consent was required, but the emphasis was on controlling the common spaces and vacant spaces, and, as I say, 25 weapons were secured by BITE teams that evening.
This is a very substantial commitment of 180 additional police personnel, 18 times 10, for a year with a capacity to extend it beyond a year with additional HUD funds, as well as with funds that are in the crime bill. So this is a substantial addition of police capability that can be on the scene immediately. It does not require hiring of police personnel. These are off-duty personnel who, through overtime, can be in place as quickly as the funds are available. We're talking about the next week to 10 days on this. It's a very effective mechanism. They arrive en masse, without notice where buildings are in particular difficulty, and it's made a great deal of difference.
You see also under the next item, the third one down, $5-million advance to fund replacements of private security guards so that sworn police officers can be in charge of the lobby and entrance areas. Today, there are so-called rent-a-cops, private security guards at the entrances, generally regarded to be ineffective. They're not trained, they're underpaid; the gangs intimidate them, go around them, even when they have a metal detector and it goes off. The rent-a-cops stay in there plastic, glassed-in cages for fear of stepping out and confronting the gangs. We think the gang members will have a good deal more of a problem confronting a peace officer, a police officer, a trained policeman with back-up capability in the same way. So this is an effort to replace the security personnel with sworn officers.
You see a program that is part of -- the next one -- an element of our Operation Safe Home initiative which will bring FBI and Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms resources together in order that we can trace weapons and prosecute appropriately, based on interstate movement of weapons, moving weapons through the mails and other possible things such as that.
The next one, I promised I'd say a word about vacancies. There's a $10-million advance to rehabilitate vacant apartments. This is literally an around-the-clock effort. Conditions are so bad in the housing authority that I saw, the housing developments that I saw, that when you make an effort at vacancy rehabilitation, if the workmen leave at 6:00 p.m. in the evening, by the time they return the next morning, the work they did the previous day's been vandalized an undone.
So in a mixture of fixing the buildings on a practical, round-the-clock basis, using the model that was used in the California earthquake to get the freeway built in a fourth of the time that was originally projected, as well as to have a physical presence in the buildings with workers and spotlights and guards moving equipment through the building 24 hours, that will be an element of getting control of some of these buildings and dealing with the vacancies.
You see, finally, on this page funding for tenant patrols -- very important American heroes who wake up in the middle of the night to patrol their own buildings, no matter the weather. And they need some support in the form of radio equipment and so forth.
Let me quickly go through the second page because it's important to balance the security steps against the prevention measures. You see there funds to rehabilitate playground facilities. Presently the ball fields around Robert Taylor Homes are covered with glass shards and fragments and drug paraphernalia; clearly, unavailable to the children who want to play there.
In addition, $200,000 to support recreational programs, particularly one called Midnight Basketball that takes and allows gangs members to be engaged in something other than gang activity by participating in basketball late into the night. Well orchestrated, coached, supervised basketball.
A very successful drug program at the Harold Ickes Homes called CADRE will be extended to the rest of the developments in the Chicago Housing Authority with the funds advanced from the Bureau of Justice Assistance. And then, very importantly, you see a $2 million new investment of family -- in what we call Family Investment Center funds to provide recreational programs, youth counseling, cultural activities, after-school programs, and do that on the ground floor of the buildings, which then take some units out of circulation and replaces them with adults to add to the control of the bottom floor of the lobbies.
In addition, what we find is that many of those ground floor units are being used for drug transactions because people can avoid coming to the building and just use the windows for drug transactions at the ground levels. If we would transform those into active places where adults are providing youth services and counseling and so forth, they're unavailable for those purposes.
And finally, $150,000 to establish a Boys and Girls Club.
Let me just say two things in closing. The first is that this represents a down payment on the concepts the President has pushed in the crime bill; the same balancing of, on the one hand, prevention measures with those matters related to enforcement. And though this is particularly targeted to Chicago, because of the emergency circumstances of the moment -- the level of violence and gang war that is at its highest intensity -- this same approach will be available to other communities in the crime bill and through other programs that exist between the various federal departments. And we will work with other communities in the same way.
Finally, everything that we have proposed here is in consultation with the residents. Keep in mind, it is the residents who have requested that the policy of sweeps continue, and support them. And I can tell you this from firsthand, spending Sunday afternoon and Monday and yesterday with the residents. I didn't take one step in recommending to the President, consulting with the Attorney General, or allocating our resources -- HUD resources -- without consultation with the residents. It is an absolute imperative that we do that, and I can tell you from those discussions that they are nearly desperate with the conditions that they're forced to raise their children in today.
I could tell you anecdotal stories; I won't dwell on it now, but perhaps the most plaintive voice that I heard on Sunday was a lady who just said, "Please make it stop." Beyond ideology, beyond partisanship, beyond fine legal distinctions, she was just begging that the violence, the shooting, her children having to watch their classmates be taken to the hospital stop. And they're convinced that the sweeps have played an important role in slowing down the flow of weapons.
Without the sweeps, the weapons have come back into the buildings on a large scale. As a matter of fact, one lady told me yesterday -- she said, they're bringing the weapons back in in bagfuls. So some mechanism like the sweeps needs to be available to those who would try to provide safety and security. We've tried to provide those within constitutional limits.
The rest of the things we've talked about here -- the BITE teams, the vacancies, the drug programs, the recreational programs -- all -- I can show you my notes -- are specifically requested by the residents, because they know their circumstances better than anyone else.
I'll be happy to stop on that note and take questions. And Mr. Bryson may want to speak to some of the legal issues.
Q: Is this problem only with the public housing? I mean, why particularly with public housing?
SECRETARY CISNEROS: Well, I'll tell you why particularly with public housing. Because the configuration of the public housing is a big part of the problem. First of all, we have created a legacy of concentration in Chicago -- not only in Chicago, but in Chicago, 67 high-rise buildings along State Street for four miles, literally -- no exaggeration -- you can check it on the odometer of your car -- four miles, 67 high-rise buildings without a break. A concentration of something like a third of the 144,000 people who are public housing residents in Chicago in this State Street corridor.
Point number one, concentration. Secondly, the federal government has been part of the problem in recent years in allowing income levels to drop so dramatically in public housing that the residents of public housing share all of the same problems. The median income in Chicago public housing is $5,400, as against something in excess of $40,000 in the metropolitan area as a whole. So an eighth or so, and no income mix. In many buildings, 85 percent single heads of households; no one working in regular jobs; no role models for the children at all.
Now, that's the base condition. Then it is exaggerated by -- rather it is complicated by the war for turf, and particularly for control of drug producing properties. There is a gang war in Chicago right now -- and particularly, I speak now of Robert Taylor Homes and Stateway -- by two gangs; one called the Gangster Disciples, the other called the Black Disciples. They literally control entire high-rise buildings, and frequently these buildings are adjacent to each other. I am told by the Chicago police that the drug take from those high-rise buildings is as high as $30,000 a week, or $1.5 million a year. Therefore, in the minds of 15- and 16- year-old gang members, it is worth fighting for, even dying for, control of the buildings.
What you end up with, then, is high-rise buildings adjacent to each other with young men spotting from the upper stories to see whether their rival gang members are moving around in the common space between the buildings, and shooting from building to building with heavy weapons. I mean, a 30-06 deer rifle with a scope is the kind of weapon that's in use and the kind of weapon that was confiscated the other night.
So, unfortunately, you find circumstances where, because children live there and families live there, they get caught in the cross-fire. Women will show you apartments with bullet holes over their children's beds; bullets that have finally ended up in the hallway in their homes not because they were the targets, but because anyone in the opposite building ends up being a target in the crossfire.
Q: Where are the Chicago police in all this?
SECRETARY CISNEROS: Chicago police are patrolling, and they have allocated a unit of 125 officers in addition to what the Chicago Housing Authority has. But it's not enough to patrol, when what is required is to actually take control of buildings and take them back from the gang members; and that's the circumstance. That's why Chicago, at this moment -- and that's why public housing.
Q: What are you hearing from the civil liberties groups on this? What are your preliminary estimates of court tests? Are people telling you this will or will not pass constitutional muster?
SECRETARY CISNEROS: We believe that this will pass constitutional muster, and a lot of work went into drafting a policy that would pass a court test. The consent forms, the consents in the leases, the conditions under with warrantless searches can occur -- all of those were drafted with that in mind.
Now, if you were, this afternoon, to call a member of the ACLU and ask them a specific question, I can't tell you what their answer might be. My guess is that there are some who might continue to want to test these questions; and that's what the courts are for. But we believe that we have devised a policy here that can meet the test.
And let me, in the final analysis, say that the conditions in public housing in Chicago -- as well as other places right now -- are so severe that any abstract analysis of people's rights of the type that the ACLU might do is swamped in real life by people's rights being denied. Clearly, people ought to have a right to live safely, in peace, take their children to school, walk the sidewalks of their buildings, to be able to walk through the hallways of a building without all the lights having been knocked out and the elevators pitch dark because the gang members want to reduce the silhouette that they'll make to gunners in the next buildings --those are rights that people have, as well; and those rights are being abridged by the present circumstances.
Q: In announcing the program --
SECRETARY CISNEROS: I'll come back -- just let me take this lady and I'll come back.
Q: What is the status of the overall issue of gun control in public housing?
SECRETARY CISNEROS: We are, internally now, assessing the proper course that we want to follow. Clearly we want to discourage -- obviously, illegal weapons are banned in public housing. The question has arisen of whether or not we ought to ban all guns in public housing by lease. Some public housing residents -- and there are some places in the country where people would feel this would be a substantial infringement on their rights, so we have not crossed that bridge at this point.
There is some legislation that suggests that developments may want to vote on whether all weapons can be banned in a building. And we think that has some plausibility and is worth looking at. But we've not issued regulations or taken a stand yet on the question of banning all weapons in public housing. It's an open question; it's now being discussed in the department and elsewhere.
Q: In announcing this program, it sounds like housing authorities are admitting a failure on a rather extreme level -- that people are indeed living in circumstances where their children have bullet holes over their bed, or where they're always making --
SECRETARY CISNEROS: I'm not afraid to acknowledge that public housing, in the worst configurations, has failed. And therefore, we must go beyond security measures and even the kinds of community building measures, salvaging measures that I've described here today to profound and dramatic change in public housing.
We'll be introducing legislation this next week which will allow us to do things, for example, like change the rules and internal dynamics of public housing so that people can work, and families that have incomes and work can be included in the mix of families in public housing. That goes to one of the questions that I answered earlier about the income mix.
We want to go farther than that, and make it possible to capitalize future streams of public housing assistance to housing authorities so that large sums of money can be made available now -- not down the road, not just rehabilitate, modernize and put BandAids, but replace the worst of the high-rise public housing with more appropriately scaled, scattered, safer configurations across the metropolitan area. These are the kinds of dramatic, profound changes I think we need to make in public housing.
Let me just say, anytime that you're in Chicago -- and I know most of you are White House press so it may be restricted to a time when you're traveling there with the President -- but it is worth seeing this line up of 67 high-rise buildings and recognizing what was done there.
Q: Can that be torn down?
SECRETARY CISNEROS: Much of it ought to be replaced because, as I said, the present configuration is a failed effort at housing people.
Q: But, Mr. Secretary, may I ask you just a question about the allocation of resources understanding that you are going to accomplish nothing without a zone of safety.
SECRETARY CISNEROS: Right.
Q: I still note that some $30-odd million are devoted to enforcement, and of the $2,950,000 that have been slated for prevention, my count is no more than $950,000 that might go for such things as counseling, drug prevention, violence prevention. What can you really hope to accomplish if you lay in a heavy dose of law enforcement short-term and you don't do anything to counsel kids who are seeing this violence, to help their parents find jobs who only have a median income, that you so eloquently put it, at $5,000 a year. I mean, what about the so-called soft services that really are going to be the building blocks of changing this thing? You've got to change the people.
SECRETARY CISNEROS: Good question, and I'd like to answer it in two ways. The first is that what you see here is an immediate infusion of federal resources to deal with the present circumstances. In part, it's law enforcement. It's also some of these community efforts.
Yesterday morning, I met with the mayor, with the head of the Parks District in Chicago, which controls the park system as well as recreational programs; met with foundation leaders from the Chicago area and began discussions with the business community of Chicago. There's one important element missing that was not present at the table, but the mayor committed to bring them to the table is the Board of Education. And what we're asking is that this down payment be matched by these other institutions in their areas of capability. And we received some tentative commitments yesterday, which the mayor will outline in the weeks ahead.
This is a partnership in which the federal government has started and we expect fully that we will see resources for summer recreation programs from the Parks District, for some educational initiatives from the Board of Education, some commitments from the foundation and business community to cultural programs, antidrug initiatives, and, very importantly, the city of Chicago with its own discretionary resources. So what you see here is a small percentage of what will be brought to bear on this circumstance.
Additionally, and the second part of the answer, we have many ongoing programs that are not represented in this -- our own HUD as well as the other federal departments. And I might also say that in instances where we concentrate effort, such as you know the decision this week to join in a partnership with the District of Columbia government to deal with the very troubled District of Columbia Housing Authority, it gives us the opportunity, gives HUD the opportunity to work on the housing component, but also to bring to bear the efforts of other federal resources.
So I fully expect you'll see the Department of Education and Labor and Justice and Health and Human Services joining us, using public housing, the base as the focal point for effort.
Q: Considering the magnitude of the money you're discussing here for these two projects, doesn't that really limit the likelihood of this truly being a nationwide approach?
SECRETARY CISNEROS: Let me make clear, the announcement yesterday in Chicago was not solely for these two projects. If you look at many of these things, for example, the BITE teams, which is $10 million of this $29 million package; the vacancy reduction, which is another $10 million of the $29 million -- so now we're up to $20 million of the $29 million -- are intended to be used throughout the CHA. So we're talking about one of the largest housing authorities in the country that has new resources to work with.
Now, as to the question of inadequacy of resources -- yes, we're always working with tight resources, always. It's the sort of going in assumption that we're going to be very, very tight. That's why it's important to leverage beyond what the federal government can do and get others to the table. That was the first thing I did on arrival yesterday morning in Chicago, is to meet with the group that I described. And I think we can create partnerships that leverage money dramatically.
We're looking now at some changes in rules that would allow us to bring private sector partners that can bring resources, like our pension fund relationship where we put $100 million of housing vouchers, and with pension money, extend that to $1.2 billion worth of housing product. We'll have to do a good deal more of that. And I think that's going to be one of the watchwords, one of the hallmarks of our efforts the next few years.
Q: Mr. Secretary, are these search consent clauses now going to be a part of everybody's lease in the Chicago Housing Authority?
SECRETARY CISNEROS: The preconsent given in leases will be a local decision. That is to say, we believe it is an element of policy that will enhance the ability of housing authorities to conduct searches. The decision will have to be made as local as each housing authority, and potentially, each development where residents may want to vote. That would further enhance the constitutionality of these preconsent devises.
Q: Are sweeps being used in other housing authorities?
SECRETARY CISNEROS: Yes, they are. Yes, they are, but in different configurations. For example, in Baltimore, they give 48 hours notice that a sweep is going to occur and have not been tested with that approach.
Bruce, do you know other cities that are using sweeps now?
MR. KATZ: I think Philadelphia and Puerto Rico are using sweeps similar to the ones they use in Baltimore.
SECRETARY CISNEROS: In Baltimore -- with advance notice.
Q: Is that successful?
SECRETARY CISNEROS: You'd be surprised at how successful they are because, as I said earlier, frequently residents don't know what another family member has put in the unit. So it's more successful than you might imagine, but clearly, not as successful as a surprise sweep might be.
Q: But there are dangers, too. I mean, recently, in Boston, a 71-year-old man who also happened to be a preacher had a heart attack and --
SECRETARY CISNEROS: I don't think that was a sweep, though. That was a -- my recollection is it wasn't public housing, it was a private apartment and -- it may have been assisted housing, but it was a private apartment and it was a police action. That was not a sweep, but it was an anticrime raid. It was a different circumstance. They arrived in force, rammed down the door, were looking for fugitives and had the wrong person. It's exceedingly unfortunate. The mayor and the police chief apologized; obviously, apologies aren't enough in such a circumstance, but that was the circumstances of that case.
Q: Could you just clarify -- when you were talking about the warrantless searches in exigent circumstances, does that mean that -- let's say, there's a shooting, a shoot-out, and the police come into the building, that they are able without a warrant to go into an entire floor, searching?
SECRETARY CISNEROS: It does. It does --
Q: kind of leave open the possibility that whenever there might be any type of incident whatsoever, the police could use that in order to --
SECRETARY CISNEROS: No, and let me tell you some practical reasons why it doesn't. First of all, the sweeps involved a lot of police personnel. You can't just assemble large numbers of people anytime there's an incident. The sweeps, as they were being run in Chicago, involved over 100 personnel. So the likelihood that you could say, oh, there's been some shooting; we need the excuse; let's put 100 people together and go -- it doesn't work that way as a practical matter.
Legally, what we interpret the -- and Bill may want to expand on this -- what we interpret the exigent condition to be an appropriate response in a timely fashion. It can't be three days later. It's got to be in some rough approximation to when the incident occurred and targeted to the circumstances of the incident.
ASSOCIATE ATTORNEY GENERAL BRYSON: With respect to exigent circumstances, there's a lot of case law on this, and the theme of what we're saying here is that we think we can have an effective crime prevention and apprehension program without departing from standard Fourth Amendment law. We're not trying to create new law here. What we're really trying to do is to avoid having everything tested in court, avoid having long delays while programs get precleared, in effect, by federal and state courts. We think there is the capacity through existing Fourth Amendment law to take care of the problem.
Now, with respect to exigent circumstances, the standard formula -- and of course, it's very fact specific; you just can't say in any more than the most general terms how exigent circumstances will apply in a particular case until you know the facts -- but by and large, the way the courts would articulate it is to say that you need some kind of emergency situation where the need to act without a warrant is pressing. And the police, under those circumstances, can engage in an appropriate response.
If a gang is running into a building and the police are following, they can run into the building. They can pursue the gang. That doesn't mean that they can go through the entire building, to the top floor, and look through everybody's chest of drawers in their apartments. That would be well beyond what the courts would characterize as exigency. But it really is a fact-specific kind of inquiry that has to be done and yet, it gives flexibility to police to deal with emergency situations.
Q: How throughout the chain of command would a determination need to be made in order to declare a circumstance exigent? Are we talking about a sergeant, a captain? What are we talking about?
ASSOCIATE ATTORNEY GENERAL BRYSON: Well, typically, when -- real exigency is typically something that has to be decided on the spot, because if it has to go up to the captain, by that time, your need for immediate action very often has ended. Not necessarily, but very often. So this is the kind of thing -- if there is a medical emergency; somebody has been shot, somebody is shooting from the windows of an apartment, you can identify the apartment. You go in and you try to apprehend them then. You don't need, under those circumstances, to get a warrant because you have no capacity to get a warrant. You don't have the time. And you also, of course, don't have the time to call the chief of police.
That's the way exigent circumstances typically works. Now, there may be circumstances in particular cases in which you do have to go up the chain. But the normal exigent circumstances case will not involve the opportunity for that.
Q: So it could be a cop on the beat?
ASSOCIATE ATTORNEY GENERAL BRYSON: It typically has been. In exigent circumstances law, it's the cop on the beat who is trained to understand what the limits are of exigent circumstances, but it's the cop on the beat that has to make that decision in many exigent circumstances cases.
Q: On another part of this, you say that it will be helpful for a tenant to show their support for searches in advance. Is this basically a majority rule can overrule the Fourth Amendment?
ASSOCIATE ATTORNEY GENERAL BRYSON: No. What we think is very important here, and the theme of that element and really a lot of this is, one, local circumstances really control what is reasonable in a particular case. The whole Fourth Amendment is premised on the concept of reasonableness. And reasonableness is a balancing of need against the intrusion.
Now, in particular cases, the need may be very great. And that's true of these two units. We need desperately to get control of these units -- to get control from the gangs. Therefore, the need element is extremely high. The intrusion of searches into one's home obviously is high, too. But what's important, I think, about allowing the voice of the tenants to be heard through tenant organizations or otherwise is that you have evidence in the clearest form that you can have of what the people who are affected by both the emergency need and also by the intrusions that are involved --how they feel about it.
Now, this is not to say that the Fourth Amendment is somehow subject to majority rule; of course, it's not. It is, however, to say that in assessing a particular case what the level of need versus intrusion is, that it's very important to consider how the people who are there view it. And for that reason, I think a lot about this policy is really local specific. This is not to say that the same policy were to be applied in say a senior citizens' public housing home in Sarasota which hasn't had a serious crime problem in years -- of course not. This is a policy which, in its various applications, has to be made specific to, as the Secretary said, a particular housing authority and even perhaps a particular building.
Q: Are you suggesting that the consent to be searched be a condition of the lease? And what circumstances would that consent be able to be withdrawn?
ASSOCIATE ATTORNEY GENERAL BRYSON: Well, again, that's going to have to depend on how these particular authorities work that out. I think that there certainly are circumstances in which it is legitimate to have in the lease a provision similar to the maintenance and emergency clause provision which would allow for administrative inspections for firearms, let's say. In fact, there is already a provision in the consent decree in the Chicago case that allows inspections of that character.
Now, this is in the leases. It is a provision that everybody who is in the unit is bound by. Whether there would be, in a particular case, provisions that would allow somebody to opt out at particular time; or whether somebody could say, no -- just at the outset -- I don't want to sign that; and whether that person would then be able to do that would depend very much on the local conditions. And that's the gist of, I think, the whole constitutional analysis here, is that it really is not something on which you can make any across-the-board pronouncements that X policy applies regardless of where and regardless of the circumstances.
I point out that when you have a clause like this in a lease, what it really gives you is flexibility. That means you don't, then, necessarily have to conduct any of these procedures. You can say, we've got this capacity and, therefore, when the time comes, if we need to use it, we can invoke it. That gives you the flexibility that the current typical lease clauses do not. They do contain emergency entry provisions. But they typically -- the word emergency in that sense usually means the place is on fire, or there is water flowing out from the place and down into the lower units.
We think that, in effect, that in some of these units there is a fire -- there is a problem that ought to be addressed in the same sort of a way; this is a form of emergency. Now, obviously, it's different from the emergency or maintenance inspections. But it is of the same general nature, and can be dealt with in the same kind of way. It is something that has to be explored, I think, by, again, the local agencies.
And one of the things in our discussion with the people at HUD -- which has been very profitable on this, and I expect to continue -- will be to try to provide guidance to local housing authorities to the extent that they seek it as to what kinds of innovative mechanisms can be used to try to address the problem without infringing Fourth Amendment rights.
Q: Do you think in some circumstances it ought to be a condition of the lease?
ASSOCIATE ATTORNEY GENERAL BRYSON: I think in some circumstances it can be a condition of the lease, that's right. Now, the basic theme of consent law in the Fourth Amendment is that you can't coerce somebody to consent to something. So if the conclusion is that, under those circumstances, you would be effectively coercing consent because the person has no other choice, then you would have to reassess that. If the person had other choices -- if there were a provision, let's say, in a particular development that conditions were so bad that you felt you had to go to some mandatory lease provision, then if the person had choices -- was offered public housing under the circumstances, it might well take the coercive element away. But in any even, that's the basic theme.
What we're saying is, we can square this with the Fourth Amendment. We are not engaged in an effort to try to undermine the principles of the Fourth Amendment; and we would welcome, as a matter of fact, the constructive suggestions of any civil liberties groups as to how we can go about doing this while minimizing the intrusiveness of these procedures. But I think they, as we, recognize that what we're dealing with here is an emergency situation in which some kind of innovative action is required. And we're prepared to embark on it without, in any way, trampling on the rights of people under the Fourth Amendment. And we think it can be done. We think there is enough room under the doctrines that the courts have devised to do that.
Q: I have one more question for Secretary Cisneros. You had said that people in public housing had supported these measures and you had worked in consultation with them.
SECRETARY CISNEROS: Correct.
Q: But some of the other tenants that I've talked to have said that housing officials have, in effect, set up a secondclass citizenship, forcing people to endure things like metal detectors and frisking and home searches -- the kinds of things that would be viewed as indignities if they were applied to more middleclass neighborhoods.
SECRETARY CISNEROS: Interesting question -- let me take it in two parts. The first piece is, I've talked with the public housing residents, talked with their elected leaders -- the people that I meet with when I go to Chicago are the leaders of the buildings, the people who are duly elected. They are quite clear that they want security measures. Unequivocal, strongly worded -- in fact, if anything, our package didn't go far enough for them when I described it yesterday. They wanted more money, more resources, more programs and want to make sure that we carry out on these, which we will; but, very clear speaking the voice of their members.
As a matter of fact, we had a meeting at a church on Monday morning in Chicago with residents and other persons in the community, and several discordant voices were raised on these points; and the residents literally took back the meeting and said, "You don't live in public housing; you don't know what you're talking about. We live here, and we want these protections."
Q: Excuse me, this is to say that older women, elderly women and elderly men are saying that they don't mind going through metal detectors?
SECRETARY CISNEROS: Well, that was the second part that I wanted to answer. If you -- many developments in America today have protections. The most elite developments in America today have a guard at the door; a security person that you walk by at a desk; closed-circuit television from the downstairs desk to the upstairs hallways, from the parking garage. Frequently they are fenced in, in some way.
And article in last Saturday's Washington Post talked about the number of people who live in some 20 enclosed communities throughout the Washington area. Now, I'm not proposing that that's the preferable way to live, but it is not correct to say that people are stigmatized somehow by living with security when the most elite communities in America have it. Indeed, what we're doing is offering some of the same protections to the poorest of our population that those who can pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for shelter pay.
One of the interesting things, for example, is the issue of fencing of public housing. For years, I had a kind of personal sense that fencing might be regarded as fencing people in, instead of keeping trouble out. And so I resisted it until I talked to residents who said that when fencing had been put in place and it had restricted people driving through their developments without going through some kind of a entry way, sometimes even a guard shack with a guard there, but that when it was done, drive-by shootings stopped, drug trafficking stopped, people wandering across the development from outside to come and do drug purchases had stopped. In Houston, 44 percent reduction in crime the first year after fences -- simple step -- fences around a development.
Again, if we go up Connecticut Avenue, Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, D.C., we'll find the most elite condominiums have those same basic security measures. So I don't think it's a fair attack on the concept of providing security.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 11:25 A.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros and Acting Associate Attorney General Bill Bryson Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269555