By John Strand
HPR recently secured a copy of a letter to tenants living in apartments managed by the Fargo Housing and Redevelopment Authority (FHRA). The letter informs tenants that drug detecting dogs will be brought into their buildings.
The intent of this editorial is to reach out to FHRA’s management and board of commissioners—appointed by the city—to reconsider this intended action and to not go down this very slippery slope.
Excerpts from the March letter to FHRA residents follow:
“The Fargo Housing and Redevelopment Authority values your safety and security. One aspect of this is Drug-Free housing. Your building is funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD, and they maintain a policy that strictly upholds a living environment free of illegal drugs.
“In order to ensure that your building is a drug-free, healthy living environment, Earl the drug detection dog will be visiting your building. Earl and his handler will be seen in the halls performing a non-intrusive search for illegal drugs.
“We will inform you of the date of Earl’s first visit to your building. Regular, unscheduled visits will follow. We look forward to partnering with you and the Fargo Police to create a safe community for you to reside in. Thank you for your support.”
To get further explanation, HPR asked FHRA Executive Director Lynn Fundingsland about bringing drug detection dogs onto premises FHRA manages. Excerpts from his email response follow:
“This decision grew from one of our buildings that had a meth user who was beating up people and he hospitalized a tenant before we were made aware of it. It turned out three other people were beat up and just simply moved out. Everyone was apparently afraid to snitch for fear of repercussions from the guy,” Fundingsland told HPR. “In two other buildings we have had tenants report drug use or sales but no tenants’ names were provided. We discussed the issue and how to best deal with it with our board of directors, the P.D. (Police Department), Social Services, Community Health and the building tenant councils. Not all of our buildings have tenant councils but most do. So far we have visited with two tenant councils and both were overwhelmingly in support of bringing a sniffing dog through their buildings.”
According to Fundingsland, the process will be that the tenant population will get an advance notice of the day the search will happen. “The dog walks through the corridors and will signal its handler to a ‘hit’ in front of a door, which we are told is limited to illegal street drugs,” he explained. “Based on that, the P.D. would request a warrant to go into that unit for a more thorough search. Apparently the legal system is quite confident of the dog’s training and ability to distinguish smells.”
Fundingsland clarified that drug possession doesn’t automatically mean an eviction but drug manufacture or sales does. “I don’t think we have more or less drug use in our buildings than with any other apartment buildings in town, and we discussed the possibility of the perception of us profiling our tenants. According to the P.D., other landlords have requested the use of the drug dog. Too, the group who we approached for input thought that to be fair we should go through all of our properties rather than picking out specific properties.”
For the sake of perspective, FHRA manages numerous facilities in Fargo. Their outreach includes Subsidized Housing, 55+ or Disabled, Homeless Programs, Supportive Housing, Multi-Family Housing, Downtown Rental Properties, and the Section 8 Homeownership Program. According to their website, FHRA properties include: 220 Broadway Apartments, Herald Square Apartments, Graver Apartments (58 units), Dakota Life Apartments (3 units), Church Townhomes (8 units), Bluestem Court (28 units), Sisters Path, New Horizons Manor (183 units), Cooper House (42 units), Sunrise (43 units), Pioneer Manor (46 units), Crossroads (81 units), Colonial Apartments (10 units), Burrel Apartments (30 units), Family Public Housing (85 units), and Lashkowitz High Rise (249 units).
Clearly, FHRA plays a huge role in the lives of perhaps thousands of Fargo people, young and old. Yet, there needs to be a balance between public safety and privacy protections.
The notion that a man’s home is his castle comes to mind. The notion of privacy in the confines of one’s home comes to mind. The notion of due process and protections against unreasonable search and seizure comes to mind, as well.
Our hats off to FHRA for its positive and significant role in our community. Meantime, we challenge Fargo Housing Authority to not embark on this path utilizing drug detection dogs on premises of its citizens for whom the agency provides home and shelter. That action is an overstep of reasonable bounds and will set precedence for similar action by other landlords who house some 54 percent of Fargo’s population. While we agree that hard-core criminal activity needs to be nipped in the bud, we do not endorse trampling fundamental rights of countless other citizens as an acceptable means to get there.
We respectfully ask FHRA leadership and its city-appointed board of commissioners to stop this unwarranted action in its tracks and before it starts. Further, we encourage FHRA to enact citizen-involved processes which thwart problems like the one violent meth-user which resulted in the decision to bring in drug detection dogs, at the expense of personal protections and liberties of countless others who just happen to live in any one of their hundreds of living spaces.
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