What is a no-knock warrant and why do police use them?


(NewsNation Now) — The shooting death of a 22-year-old man on Wednesday has reignited the national debate over law enforcement’s use of so-called no-knock warrants.

Amir Locke was lying on a couch wrapped in a blanket Wednesday when a SWAT team stormed through the door in what would be the final moments of the man’s life.

Locke, who was Black, wasn’t named on the warrant that officers were executing. In the days since his death, however, the Minneapolis Police Department has pointed to a still from one officer’s body camera, which shows a gun in Locke’s hand just before officer Mark Hanneman fired his weapon.

No-knock warrants and raids came under public scrutiny in the wake of the shooting death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Louisville emergency medical technician studying to become a nurse. Taylor was shot multiple times in March 2020 after being roused from sleep by police. No drugs were found, and the warrant was later found to be flawed.

Some argue that no-knock warrants too often lead to injury or death. But proponents of the measure have defended no-knock warrants as a tool to keep their communities safe.

What is a no-knock warrant and who uses them?

The term refers to a search warrant that allows police officers to enter a premises without first knocking and announcing themselves.

As of 2020, most states allowed no-knock warrants in some form, excluding Oregon, which bars them for any reason. Florida prohibits no-knock warrants but makes exceptions when an occupant doesn’t respond or reply to a standard knock warrant, according to the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ).

Utah also bans no-knock warrants specifically when they are based only on the suspicion of drug possession, according to a Jan. 2021, CCJ report.

But sentiments around no-knock warrants seem to be shifting on a larger scale.

Vice President Kamala Harris co-sponsored legislation in June 2020 aimed at banning police from using chokeholds and no-knock warrants. The bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and is on the Senate calendar as of February 2022.

As of January 2021, state bills and local ordinances banning or restricting no-knock warrants were
in 22 states and 20 cities, according to the CCJ.

Minneapolis updated its policy in Nov. 2020 to require that officers announce their presence as they enter a premises, as well as to make periodic announcements while inside.

Why do some police departments use them?

No-knock warrants are typically issued in situations where police announcing their presence before entry could lead to the destruction of evidence or further put a person’s safety at risk, according to Cornell Law School.

They also tend to be reserved for situations that present imminent threat, retired New York police officer Jillian Snider said.

Snider works as an instructor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and told NewsNation that police don’t execute no-knock warrants “on a regular basis by any means.”

“Judges will not sign off on them unless there’s a serious threat to public safety,” Snider said. “So in this case, I do know that the warrant was executed because of a murder investigation, which would be something that a no-knock warrant would be signed off upon.”

Former Chicago Police Chief Eddie Johnson emphasized the generally high-stakes nature of no-knock warrant executions, noting that they’re often used in cases involving “very violent offenders.”

“Anytime you’re asking for no-knock, it’s a dangerous and tenuous situation,” Johnson said.

That’s why it’s important that officers conduct a full investigation to determine who’s at the property before executing a warrant, Snider said.

The Minneapolis Police Department on Friday declined to say what steps if any officers took to be sure that the person sought in Wednesday’s warrant was home at the time. The department cited an ongoing investigation that is being conducted by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

What do we know about the shooting that killed Locke?

The situation is still under investigation, and police as of Friday hadn’t released copies of the warrant they were serving when they encountered Locke.

According to Johnson, “You don’t have to wait for somebody to point a weapon at you and fire it before you try to defend yourself.”

Johnson added that he is more familiar with Illinois’ laws than Minnesota’s.

But Locke’s family has said the man was a licensed gun owner with a concealed carry permit. Some gun rights activists additionally argued that Locke was reaching for “legal means of defense” as he tried to get his bearings.

On Friday, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said he asked the state’s Attorney General Keith Ellison to review events surrounding the shooting.

The underlying homicide that the warrant was issued in connection with is being investigated by the St. Paul Police Department. Few details about that case have been released.

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