No-knock warrants are search warrants that give police the authority to forcibly enter a property without knocking and announcing their presence. The use of no-knock warrants is controversial, with some people supporting them and others believing they must be banned. There seems to be a growing consensus that the risks outweigh the potential rewards.
No-knock warrants were first developed through the courts as a way to preserve evidence-primarily crack cocaine. They were used extensively at the height of the drug wars in the 1990s and into the 2000s.
Why there’s criticism of no-knock warrants
Critics of no-knock warrants believe they make a situation more volatile and dangerous. Various incidents seem to confirm this argument and are fueling national protests over police brutality. There’s increasing evidence of how no-knock warrants can play out in a negative way.
Earlier this year, Minneapolis police obtained a no-knock warrant which resulted in the shooting of Amir Locke. They were after the cousin of this 22-year-old black man because he was a suspect in a homicide. They shot Locke when they saw he had a gun, although he was a legal gun owner.
Breonna Taylor, an innocent Black medical worker, was killed by Louisville police officers in March 2020 after they entered her apartment using a battering ram in a botched drug raid. The apartment received court approval for a ‘no-knock entry,’ but orders were changed to ‘knock and announce’ before the raid. Officers said they did announce themselves, but the victim’s boyfriend said he didn’t hear anything.
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Arguments supporting no-knock warrants
A judge may issue a no-knock warrant when police believe that announcing their presence could result in the destruction of evidence. Another argument from supporters of no-knock warrants is that they give police the element of surprise, which increases their likelihood of safety as suspects don’t have time to arm themselves.
Police officers may believe they can execute a warrant more safely when they can enter an apartment without alerting suspects inside. They believe this method also offers more protection for nearby residents and members of the public.
To critics who bring up the fact that officer fatality is higher in no-knock raids than in standard searches, supporters say this is simply because situations requiring no-knock warrants are inherently more dangerous.
Changing internal approval processes for warrants
The media draws attention to no-knock warrants after cases where officers or victims are shot, and there is much public outcry, but processes have to start changing in police departments, and this can take time, especially if there’s resistance to change.
One change is that police departments are starting to create internal approval processes that require more planning and surveillance before serving warrants. If the police are going to serve high-risk warrants, the cost of surveillance or other tactics may be necessary to prevent potential crises.
A changing legal landscape
After the George Floyd killing in May 2020, Minneapolis instituted police reforms, but the use of no-knock warrants doesn’t seem to have declined. At present, there are only four states – Connecticut, Oregon, Virginia, and Florida – that ban no-knock raids. There are 13 states that allow them, and the rest restrict them in various ways. On the federal level, there is a growing movement to restrict them and to place limits on the circumstances under which agents can use them.