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New Haven Police Decide Not To Break In To Unlocked Cars

Police in New Haven, Connecticut's East Rock neighborhood have called off a plan for officers to remove valuables from unlocked cars before they even got started.

The plan was first made public this week by the New Haven Register.

New Haven Police Lieutenant Herb Sharp, who oversees the neighborhood, said the goal was to prevent break-ins before robbers could take the items.

“Car break-ins are a stepping stone to committing more dangerous crimes, so you have to address those small crimes," he said, to the New Haven Independent. The people of East Rock shouldn’t have to live with car break-ins."

The plan was to have officers run the plate number of unlocked cars with plainly-seen valuables and attempt to contact the owner.

If unsuccessful, police would then confiscate items, lock the car, and leave the owner with a receipt.

According to the Independent, Mayor Toni Harp praised the plan on Monday, calling it "innovative." But by Thursday, Harp's spokesman told WSHU that lawyers for the city asked police on Tuesday to put the plan on hold. New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman has said that the city was worried about legal complications.

In nearby Fairfield County, police in Norwalk, Connecticut said they've also been concerned about break-ins in the town. But on Twitter, their spokesman Paul Resnick said they have no plans to follow the New Haven proposal.

Dan Barrett, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, said calling off the plan was "the right move," because the plan could have led to warrantless searches of private property.

According to the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, people are entitled to freedom from unreasonable seizure or search without a warrant. There's a legal exception to the amendment that allows police to move or confiscate property without a search warrant, Barrett said, but he adds that's usually used in the case of incidents like automobile accidents, where cars in the road form an immediate hazard.

"We have serious reservations about whether the 'community caretaking ' exception to the fourth amendment warrant requirement is really applicable to opening cars and taking things," he said. "The principal concern for people who have faith in the Constitution as a protector of us from the government is that, once the police are in the door and they see something- can that be used against you?"