No-knock warrants are dangerous and open to abuse, critics say, as some officials move to outlaw the practice
By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, June 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A drive to outlaw "no-knock" raids that let police storm homes without announcement has taken on new urgency amid nationwide protests over racial inequality and U.S. law enforcement.
One city banned the raids last week, and a sharp new focus on police violence following the death in custody of George Floyd is pushing others to review.
No-knock raids must be approved by a judge and are used tens of thousands of times each year, right across the United States.
Critics say they are dangerous and open to abuse, and Floyd's death is accelerating the push to outlaw a practice that frees officers to enter private premises unannounced.
Last week, the Louisville, Kentucky, city council unanimously banned such actions, months after 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, a black emergency room technician, was killed when police officers bearing a no-knock warrant entered her apartment on a drugs investigation.
Louisville was not the first city to bar no-knock - Houston did so last year, as have the states of Oregon and Florida - but its move is seen as crucial in the explosive new context.
Louisville's law "is going to be incredibly significant nationwide" given it takes place amid a "nationwide uprising that's responding to police violence," said Thomas B. Harvey, Justice Project director with the Advancement Project National Office, a non-profit.
Police carry out about 20,000 no-knock actions a year, said Harvey, "overwhelmingly against black and brown people in America."
According to a 2014 study from the American Civil Liberties Union, drug searches account for most of those raids.
While there are no national statistics on related deaths, a New York Times investigation found that between 2010 and 2016, no-knock raids resulted in the death of 39 people, including eight police officers.
Many others result in injuries and property damage, Harvey said.
TIME FOR REFORM?
The national Fraternal Order of Police - an association of officers - did not respond to a request for comment, but Ryan Nichols, president of a Louisville branch of the order, says: "No-knock warrants, when executed properly, can be a valuable tool for law enforcement."
Yet in the aftermath of Louisville's move, there are now several similar efforts afoot at city, state and federal level.
Cincinnati city council member Chris Seelbach told the Thomson Reuters Foundation he is drafting an ordinance "mimicking" the Louisville ban.
"No-knock warrants put both the person in the house and the police officers at risk," he said.
Similar bills are in process at the state level in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
The latter provision was added in response to the action taken in Louisville, according to the office of state Representative Liz Miranda, who is co-sponsoring the measure.
"It is time for transformational, systemic reforms," she said in an emailed statement.
Multiple federal bills have also been introduced in recent days that would outlaw or seek to scale down the use of no-knock warrants, including a key Republican proposal endorsed by President Donald Trump.
No-knock raids touch on a very basic sense about private property, said legal commentator Tyler Broker.
"Your home is your castle, your home is your sanctuary," he said by phone, "and to see this regularly abused - that should alarm everyone."
The current protests offer a potent opportunity for critics of no-knock raids, he said.
"What people are protesting most is the unnecessary overuse of violence and the unnecessary escalation," he said.
"That fits right into the broader narrative. People are getting fed up: Why are you doing it this way?"
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(Reporting by Carey L. Biron, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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