Ban No-Knock Warrants, But Don't Stop There If You Want Real Change | Opinion

Amir Locke was fast asleep when police barged in and killed him while executing a no-knock warrant. He was not the target of the warrant and was not suspected of committing any crime. Nevertheless, the body camera footage from the incident revealed that nine seconds later, Minneapolis police officer Mark Hanneman had killed the 22-year-old, still wrapped in a blanket on the couch.

In response, Minneapolis—and other jurisdictions—are calling for a ban on no-knock warrants, a type of search warrant which authorizes police officers to enter certain premises without first knocking and announcing their presence or purpose. Because no-knock warrants do not give individuals notice that it is the police at their door, or even a moment to prepare themselves—the execution of such warrants are far too likely to have tragic consequences. Breonna Taylor—and an estimated 30 to 40 individuals each year—have lost their lives as a result of botched executions of such warrants.

The no-knock warrant that led to Locke's death has raised questions, especially because the St. Paul Police Department did not request a no-knock warrant. But the fact that the Minneapolis Police Department insisted on a no-knock warrant reflects the general increase of such warrants over the last few decades—in the range of 60,000 nationwide by 2010, compared to a few thousand in the 1980s.

There are certainly common-sense measures that we can take to mitigate the harms of no-knock warrants. Activists have called for reforms such as limiting raids to daytime hours, a response requirement allowing ample time to answer the door and making sure officers have up-to-date intel. Jurisdictions might also consider prohibiting no-knock warrants for low-level or drug offenses and using them only when knocking-and-announcing would present an imminent danger to human life (rather than just to prevent the destruction of evidence).

Banning no-knock warrants—or at the very least severely restricting them—is a first step. But states need to think even bigger than the latest tragedy. In the wake of George Floyd's killing, states called to ban chokeholds. And in response, at least 17 states banned or restricted the practice. But regulating a specific practice—–whether it's chokeholds or no-knock warrants—is wholly insufficient. We need comprehensive policing reform.

A demonstrator holds a sign
A demonstrator holds a "Justice for Amir Locke" sign during a rally in protest of the killing of Amir Locke, outside the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis, Minn. on Feb. 5, 2022. KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images

To be effective, states should consider also regulating "knock-and-announce with dynamic entry"—a practice in which a SWAT team announces as they enter, but enters so rapidly (and often with military equipment), they retain the element of surprise. This can include the use of a flashbang grenade, an explosive device that has caused devastating harms during raids, from burns and severed hands, to heart attacks. Without regulations that also consider dynamic entry, officers might just continue no-knock under a different name.

And states shouldn't stop there. Real change requires comprehensive legislation, like the statutes we at the Policing Project at the New York University School of Law have drafted regarding use of force, officer discipline and removing barriers to accountability, among other subjects.

Such reform is possible: States like Illinois and Massachusetts have passed comprehensive use-of-force and officer discipline measures following George Floyd's murder. If Minnesota had similar provisions in place, these tragedies may well have been avoided. Derek Chauvin, the police officer who murdered George Floyd, had at least 18 prior complaints filed against him with the Minneapolis police. Early reports state that officer Mark Hanneman, who shot Locke, had four complaints, one of which was still open. If officers with a serious history of misconduct continue to carry a badge and gun, it won't matter how much piecemeal reform we try to enact.

Instead of waiting for the next tragedy, we need a comprehensive legislative approach that creates clear rules as to what officers can and cannot do, and puts enforcement mechanisms in place to ensure laws are followed.

As Amir Locke's parents have said, they are not anti-police. But they want to know why their son is dead. They want accountability for his killing. And accountability must be more than a ban on no-knock warrants.

Nila Bala is a senior staff attorney at the Policing Project at the NYU School of Law, and a former public defender from Baltimore City.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.