War on cops takes many forms

The Minnesota House of Representatives Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee debated HF 2290 in a hearing last evening. The bill would effectively ban law enforcement from having the ability to seek a “no knock” search warrant when deemed necessary. The effort to ban this option is largely in response to the death of Amir Locke, who was shot by Minneapolis Police during the service of a “no-knock” search warrant in 2022.

As I have written previously, a ban on “no-knock” search warrants is a political and reactionary move, not supported by data or the experiences of our peace officers.

The bill’s author, Rep. Brion Curran, a former peace officer, testified as the “law enforcement” representative in favor of the bill. In her testimony, Rep. Curran acknowledged that she had never participated in a “no-knock” search warrant during her time as a peace officer.

The Minnesota Police and Peace Officer’s Association, the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, and the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association representing more than 10,000 Minnesota peace officers submitted a unanimous letter of opposition to the bill. Find it here.

Several Republican committee members spoke in opposition, including Rep. Walter Hudson who provided excellent reasoning and justification for maintaining “no-knock” search warrant options for law enforcement, when necessary. Find his testimony and message here.

I support the thousands of peace officers who need this important tool as an option by offering the following letter of opposition to the bill moving forward:

Thank you for the opportunity to address the committee on the important issue of “unannounced” or “no-knock” entries by law enforcement during search warrants.

I currently serve as the public safety policy fellow with Center of the American Experiment, and formerly served 33 years in local law enforcement retiring as a captain with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office. During my law enforcement career, I was a tactical officer for 10 years and a tactical commander for 4 years.  I also served as a detective and investigative commander for 20 years.  In those roles I served several hundred search warrants in the twin cities metro area, using both “knock and announce” and “no-knock” entries depending on situation.

It is my professional opinion based on 3 decades of public safety experience that the use of “no-knock” entries, when necessary and when vetted and managed properly, offer both citizens and the police the safest and most effective manner for securing a residence prior to conducting a court authorized search for evidence and/or violent offenders.

I am strongly opposed to HF 2290 which would create a blanket prohibition for Minnesota courts to authorize “no-knock” entries.  This bill is a gross overreaction to a handful of high-profile incidents that have been largely misrepresented in the media and misunderstood by the public, politicians and sadly some law enforcement leaders. The narrative suggests, without evidence, that “knock and announce” entries represent a panacea to potential violence during a search warrant – they don’t, and data and anecdotal experience support that assertion.

“No-knock” entries have been supported by the courts and used successfully by law enforcement 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 the officers. 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” entries are conducted nationally each year, involving violent and heavily armed suspects wanted for some of the most serious crimes that occur. Despite this, the overwhelming majority of these entries occur 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 a seven-year period between 2010-2016. It found that during “knock and announce” entries, 47 civilians and 5 police officers were killed, while during “no-knock” entries 31 civilians and 8 officers were killed. 

To give this some context, nationally there are about 1,000 fatal officer involved shootings of civilians each year, and 215 officers are killed in the line of duty each year.  Folding this data into the “no knock” entry data collected by the NY times reveals that just 4 of the 1000 fatal officer involved shootings, and 1 of the 215 officers killed each year occur during a “no-knock” entry. Another way of explaining this data is that while dealing with some of the most violent and aggressive suspects there are, in some of the most dangerous situations police face, the use of “no-knock” entries resulted in a fatal encounter for citizens and police in less than three one-hundredths of a percent (.03%) of these entries.  

In 2021, in response to legislative action, law enforcement in Minnesota began tracking no-knock entry activity.  The first annual report came out last year, and the 2022 data is expected this spring.  This was a great idea, and the data collected should be used by the legislature and law enforcement leaders to continually monitor and evaluate no-knocks in an informed and unbiased manner.

The 2021 Minnesota BCA No-Knock report reveals the following data:   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, meaning that despite having the authorization to enter using a “no-knock” entry police exercised caution when the situation dictated and conducted a “knock and announce” entry nearly 50% of the time.  Of the 54 “no-knock” warrants executed, officers encountered 186 subjects. Of those 186 subjects, just four were able to react and resist police, while the other 182 were secured without incident – a testament to the use of speed and surprise. Of the 186 subjects encountered, just 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, some of the most dangerous situations police face, and just one non-fatal injury occurred in 2021.

The data is clear – “no knock” entries are not representative of a critical issue in law enforcement requiring a legislative ban.  The anecdotal examples support this as well.

I’ve been part of several hundred search warrants since the late 1980’s.  The team I was associated with has never shot or killed a subject during a search warrant in over 40 years of warrant service.  That team has been shot at 3 times during warrant service, and each time it was the result of something alerting the suspects to the presence of the team prior to entry – the exact situation that knocking and announcing creates. 

Since 2022, the team has voluntarily halted the use of “no-knocks” while the issue is sorted out across the state. I have spoken with several members of the team and learned that despite knocking and announcing, and waiting 30 seconds, the majority of the time the occupants refuse to open the door.  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, having now lost any element of the speed and surprise afforded them in a “no knock” entry. It is common that people are in the room immediately behind the breached door once officers enter, yet they failed to comply when the officer’s knocked.

In several instances suspects have attempted to flee through doors or by jumping out windows as officers “knocked and announced.”  One of these suspects 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 demonstrates that someone need not be listed on a search warrant to represent a threat to police.

Just this week, three officers in Kansas who were part of a team conducting a knock and announce warrant were shot when a suspect inside opened fire on them.  In just the past month in Minnesota, 3 officers have been shot while attempting to arrest suspects, after knocking and announcing and being let into those residences.  A simple google search can quickly fill a screen with media reports from around the country in which officers are shot standing outside a residence while knocking and announcing.

I fully agree with and support the concept of reasonable oversight of police work.  A blanket ban on the tactical option of “no knock” entries conducted under a well-managed process goes beyond reasonable oversight.  I urge this legislative body to table this proposal and instead work through the POST Board, the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association and Minnesota Sheriff’s Association to draft statewide model policies and procedures to properly vet and manage the use of “no knock” entries moving forward. 

A blanket ban tragically puts the safety of citizens and our peace officers at unreasonable risk.