The Role No-Knock Warrants Play in Police Brutality
Last week, a Minneapolis police officer shot and killed 22-year-old Amir Locke as he laid on a couch in a family member’s home. The officers were executing a no-knock warrant. They opened the door with a key and then swarmed into the apartment. Locke legally owned a gun and grabbed it upon the officers’ entry. Nine seconds after entering the home, the officers fired. Locke later died at the hospital. He was not the target of the search warrant (NPR).
Thousands of protestors are rallying for justice, including hundreds of students who walked out of class to demand a ban on no-knock warrants (MPR News). Here we break down what no-knock warrants are and their role in police brutality.
What are no-knock warrants? A no-knock warrant is a policy that allows police to enter your home at any point in time without announcing their presence. They can do this forcibly by breaking down the door or a window at any time of day or night. Many people naturally have the instinct to fight or flee when armed intruders break into their homes. Police often respond with deadly force (NPR).
This type of warrant became more popular during the 1980s War on Drugs era. It’s designed to catch the suspect by surprise, allowing law enforcement to intercept criminal activity before the person can run away or evidence can be destroyed (PBS). They were used more by federal agents, like the FBI or the DEA, but increasingly, local law enforcement that isn’t part of a tactical team has adopted the same practice.
“Data collected by Kraskashows that municipal police and sheriffs’ departments used no-knock or quick-knock warrants about 1,500 times in the early 1980s, but that number rose to about 40,000 times per year by 2000, he said. In 2010, Kraska estimated 60,000-70,000 no-knock or quick-knock raids were conducted by local police annually. The majority of those raidswere looking for marijuana,he added” (PBS).
Unsurprisingly, no-knock warrants are dangerous. Often, people at home are taken by surprise – not knowing the intruder is law enforcement, they may move to defend themselves, putting both themselves and law enforcement in danger. In many states, citizens are legally allowed to use “reasonable force” to defend themselves in a situation where they feel threatened. But what happens when that threat is the police? Moreover, studies have proven that law enforcement disproportionately targets people of color and is more likely to use excessive force against them. It’s estimated that eight to ten innocent people are killed by police during no-knock raids each year (NPR). These tendencies only exacerbate an already tense situation (Vox).
Didn’t the police stop using no-knock warrants after the death of Breonna Taylor? Not really. Breonna Taylor was killed in March 2020 when police officers entered and opened fire using a no-knock warrant (Vox). Last June, the city of Louisville, Kentucky, passed “Breonna’s Law,” banning no-knock search warrants and requiring officers to be equipped with an operating body camera while carrying out a search (CNN). That law, and the murder of George Floyd, spurred other cities to do the same, including Santa Fe, New Mexico, San Antonio, Texas, and Memphis, Tennessee. Three states –Florida, Virginia, and Oregon – have state-level no-knock bans. These initiatives include clauses to account for limited cases where no-knock entry may be appropriate, like a hostage scenario.
Minneapolis revised its no-knock warrant practice, too. In November 2020, they updated the policy to state that law enforcement must announce their presence and purpose before entering and periodically while on the premises (CNN). But in his campaign for re-election, Mayor Jacob Frey touted this change in policy as a full ban. His website even stated that his administration “banned the use of no-knock warrants” (David Schuman Twitter). The updated policy requires the chief of police to approve all no-knock warrants. However, this information was not reflected in the Minneapolis Police Department’s policy and procedure manual when Locke’s story broke (CNN). This misinformation contributed to the outrage that many experienced after the death of Amir Locke (Minnesota CBS).
In September 2021, the Justice Department implemented restrictions on no-knock warrants for their agents in the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Although these restrictions don’t apply to local police departments across the U.S., the hope is that it will set “best practice” for local law enforcement to embrace (EJI).
Will banning no-knock warrants make policing safer? The goal of banning no-knock warrants is to reduce and eventually end their use. (There’s little data on the use of no-knock warrants, which makes measuring this difficult). But just because there’s a ban or restrictions in place doesn’t guarantee that they won’t happen. A “paper ban” without a legal enforcement mechanism might not be worth more than the paper it’s written on (NPR). And, more broadly, police reform does little to address the root of the issue: policing is insufficient in addressing the issues our nation faces. We must not lose sight of the true goal: reducing our reliance on police and abolishing the carceral state.
Police break into homes unannounced during no-knock raids.
No-knock warrants are dangerous, causing the death of innocent people every year.
Enforcing bans on no-knock warrants is a step in reducing the power of the carceral state.