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Facts often get buried by unchallenged narratives and misinformation. As a result, bad policy and law get adopted without proper review, reflection, or debate.
Case in point, the movement to ban “no-knock” entries by police during the execution of search warrants.
Representative Ilhan Omar is preparing to introduce federal legislation to restrict the use of “no knock” warrants, and in doing so has falsely labeled the 2022 death of Amir Locke as a “murder” by the police (despite the Minnesota Attorney General and Hennepin County Attorney issuing a joint report 10 months ago detailing Locke’s death a justified use of deadly force by police).
Ilhan Omar, Star Tribune 2/6/23
Locke’s parents will be attending the State of the Union Address as guests of Rep. Omar and will likely be recognized by President Biden. They have previously characterized their son’s death as an “assassination” by police. Look for the President to add to the narrative that the use of “no-knock” entries must be banned.
The Minnesota Legislature is also set to debate legislation to ban the use of “no-knock” search warrants in this session.
Banning police from using the technique of “no-knock” entries is a gross overreaction to a handful of incidents where police or citizens have been injured or killed. The narrative suggests, without evidence, that “knock and announce” entries represent a panacea to these violent encounters — they don’t.
I recommend looking beyond the narrative and misinformation and slowing the roll that is set to take “no-knock” techniques off the table for our police. Banning the option will only put officers and citizens at more risk — data and experience support this claim.
Search warrants and the law
The 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure by the government. Law enforcement officers wishing to search a residence must obtain a search warrant by demonstrating probable cause to a judge that a crime has been committed and evidence of that crime, and/or suspects of the crime can be found in the residence to be searched. Generally, a search warrant requires officers to knock and announce their presence and wait a “reasonable” amount of time (15-20 seconds has become the standard) for someone to answer the door before forcing entry.
Minnesota law guides officers in the service of search warrants, including “no-knock” entries specifically. Find it here.
If law enforcement is aware of information that suggests the occupants have a history of weapons, violence, resistance to police, fortification of the residence to prevent entry, or plans to destroy evidence in the event of entry, law enforcement may apply for a “no-knock” provision to the search warrant. This provision, if approved by a judge, allows law enforcement to enter a residence by force, without first knocking and announcing. These entries are made in the most serious cases, involving suspects with a history of violence.
“No-knock” entries have been supported by the courts and used successfully for decades. They came about precisely because officers were being shot standing outside residences knocking and announcing their presence, and giving violent individuals time to react and mount an assault against law enforcement.
As a result, law enforcement developed techniques that use dynamic entry and the element of surprise to quickly secure a residence before occupants can react.
It is estimated that 20,000 no-knock warrants are served across the country each year involving violent and heavily armed suspects. Despite this, the overwhelming majority are carried out without incident.
There is no comprehensive national tracking system for search warrant service. However, the New York Times conducted a nationwide review of search warrants over the seven years between 2010-2016. It found that in “Knock and Announce” entries, 47 civilians and 5 police officers were killed, while in “No-Knock” entries just 31 civilians and 8 officers were killed. That equates to less than .03% of the estimated 140,000 no-knock entries resulting in a fatal shooting. Given an average of 1,000 fatal shootings by police each year, 31 civilians dying over seven years during the execution of no-knock search warrants does not represent a problem, and certainly not a crisis requiring a ban on the technique.
In 2021, law enforcement in Minnesota began tracking no-knock entry activity. During the entire year of 2021, Minnesota law enforcement requested just 132 “no knock” search warrants. Of those, just 105 were executed. Of the 105 that were executed, only 54 were executed using a “no-knock” technique. The other 51 were executed using a knock and announce technique. Of the 54 “no-knock” warrants executed, officers encountered 186 subjects. Of those 186 subjects, just four were able to resist police, while the other 182 were secured without incident (a testament to the use of speed and surprise). Of the 186 subjects encountered, one was injured, zero fatally. When the involved police officers are added to this number, an impressive 1,082 people were involved in the execution of no-knock warrants service in the most dangerous situations police face, and one non-fatal injury occurred.
This data clearly demonstrates the value “no-knock” entries have in keeping citizens and police safe during dangerous search warrant service.
An unfortunate narrative has taken hold suggesting that “no knock” search warrants are unreasonably dangerous. As the data above shows, they are not. The data also clearly shows “knocking and announcing” is no panacea to violence during search warrants.
Prominent voices have condemned the no-knock technique, with very little challenge. This lack of challenge has failed to serve the issue or our collective safety well.
Oddly one of these prominent voices has come from the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA). After Amir Locke’s death, the NTOA put out a position statement on the use of “no-knock” entries. In it, the NTOA stated: “No-knock search warrants, though well-intended, no longer pass the test of tactical science, risk mitigation practices, and liability-conscious decision-making.” I have written the NTOA twice since this statement was released, asking for any data or research they conducted that led to this statement. The NTOA has failed to respond to my inquiries.
Unfortunately, the NTOA’s statement carries weight in the law enforcement world. A police chief or sheriff who authorizes a “no-knock” entry application does so against the position statement of a national group of tactical officers, and if something goes wrong, they will have that reality to deal with.
As a result, although “no-knocks” are still legal, virtually no Minnesota agencies are utilizing the technique. Instead, hundreds of officers across our state are put in the position to stand in front of a suspect’s door, knock and announce their presence for 20-30 seconds, and then ultimately make forcible entry if the suspects fail to open the door.
I was a tactical officer for 10 years and a tactical commander for four years. In those 14 years, I participated in several hundred “no-knock” entries and am confident that the technique prevented more violence than it created.
During my time as a tactical officer, we were shot at three times, and each time was the result of something alerting the suspect to our presence before entry. There is no doubt in my mind that knocking and announcing each of the several hundred warrants I’ve been involved in would have increased the number of violent encounters, and likely ended in someone’s death.
My tactical team had a rigorous vetting process before we conducted a search warrant entry. It involved the use of physical surveillance and scouting of the residence, the application of a threat assessment tool, and an internal approval process that went up four levels of supervision before approval. We also loudly announced our presence just before breaching the door, and an announcement on a public address speaker from a squad was repeatedly made so everyone in the residence and the neighborhood knew the police were there. In over 40 years of service, the tactical team I was associated with has never once killed or injured anyone in a shooting incident. We completed the mission safely, for all involved.
Unfortunately, since the Locke case, my team has “halted” the use of “no-knock” entries. I have spoken with several of those who are serving the “knock and announce” warrants now. They estimate that nearly 70% of the time, the occupants of the residences are failing to open the door when the team knocks. The team routinely sees curtains move, lights go off, and other indicators that occupants are fully aware of their presence. The team then must forcibly breach the door, now having lost any element of surprise, without being able to use the speed and surprise afforded them in a “no knock” entry. It is common that 1-2 people will be in the room immediately behind the breached door once officers enter, yet they failed to comply by opening the door.
In several instances since the “halting” of “no-knock” entries and conducting “knock and announce entries,” suspects have attempted to flee through other doors or by jumping out windows. One had a handgun in his waistband, while another had a fully automatic handgun with an extended magazine in his hand as he dove out a window. He had to be apprehended by a K-9 as he fled. Interestingly, this man was “not the subject of the investigation,” which points to the fact that someone need not be listed on a search warrant to represent a threat to police.
Just this month, three Minnesota police officers have been shot while affecting arrest warrants on suspects at their homes. The three officers who were shot were all shot after being allowed into the residence and then confronted by the armed suspect, who knew the officers were present and why they were there. While these situations are slightly different from search warrant service by a tactical team, they are similar enough to show once again that knocking and announcing presence does not automatically create a safer situation for our police. In fact, it arguably creates greater risk.
The one-year anniversary of the death of Amir Locke has reignited the debate over “no-knock” search warrants. Misunderstanding and misrepresenting no-knock entries combined with the conflation of a handful of incidents have created a narrative of misinformation about the use of the technique and its effectiveness in keeping citizens and officers safe.
The notion that “knock and announce” warrants are inherently safer for citizens and officers is not supported by data, or by my personal experience as a tactical officer and commander.
An outright ban of “no-knock” entries through policy or law is reactionary and only serves to put law enforcement and the public in dangerous and vulnerable positions. Forcing only “knock and announce” entries give suspects time to prepare to flee, as shown. It can be reasoned that it also gives them time to prepare to fight.
Recently retired St. Cloud Chief of Police Blair Anderson summed up the use of and approach to “no-knock” entries well. “This is one of the most effective tools that we use, and I cannot overstate that we do treat this with the proper reverence that it deserves.”
Good public policy supports law enforcement maintaining the option of using “no knock” entries under a well-managed process. 47 of 50 states do. Minnesota should remain one of them.
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