The police shooting of Amir Locke has prompted yet another national conversation about no-knock raids. After bodycam footage was released showing the confrontation between Minneapolis police officers and the 22-year-old black man, a wave of outrage ensued. The video showed the officers quietly unlocking the door to the apartment in which the young man was sleeping on a couch under a blanket.
Upon crossing the threshold, the cops began yelling as they approached the couch, at which time one of the officers kicked the piece of furniture, waking Locke. The young man then emerged from under the blanket holding a pistol, at which time one of the officers shot him twice in the chest and once in his right wrist. It was later revealed that Locke had a license to carry the firearm and had no criminal record.
This is the first high-profile police shooting of this type since Breonna Taylor. Calls for getting rid of no-knock warrants have once again made their way into the conversation. But it is not yet clear whether this discussion will result in action.
The no-knock warrant came out of the “war on drugs,” which began under President Richard Nixon and continued under both Republican and Democratic administrations. It gained more traction during the 1980s under President Ronald Reagan. In 1986, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which established minimum prison sentences for certain drug offenses.
These raids were ostensibly designed to make it easier for law enforcement to apprehend criminals and curtail their illicit activities without allowing them time to react. The idea was to prevent them from assaulting a police officer, evading arrest, or destroying evidence before being captured. Bill Johnson, executive director of the National Association for Police Organizations said that this method has protected officers and evidence. However, he affirmed they “should be an available tool to use in limited, appropriate times.”
Peter Kraska, a professor with the School of Justice Studies at Eastern Kentucky University, collected information showing how often this tactic is employed. His data suggests that “quick-knock” or “no-knock” warrants were used by municipal police and sheriffs’ departments approximately 1,500 times per year in the early 1980s. However, that figure rose to around 40,000 times per year by 2000. Kraska estimates that by 2010, up to 70,000 no-knock or quick-knock raids were annually conducted by local police; mostly for marijuana offenses.
Thirteen states have passed laws prohibiting no-knock warrants outright while the rest permit judges to issue them at their own discretion. The legal basis for this method of law enforcement stems from the 1963 Supreme Court ruling in Ker v. California, which set a precedent allowing no-knock warrants for situations involving drugs. The objective was to make it easier for officers to ensure evidence is preserved. Later, in 1995, the court also ruled in Wilson v. Arkansas that officers must “knock and announce” prior to executing a warrant, but still allowed for certain exceptions.
Subsequent rulings gave judges at the local and state level a wider scope when it comes to deciding what is “reasonable suspicion” for issuing a no-knock warrant.
Critics of no-knock raids argue that such tactics are unsafe for both the suspect and the officers attempting to arrest them. The Hill reported:
“Although designed for the most egregious crimes, no-knock warrants are most commonly used in pursuit of narcotics, with 60 percent of SWAT raids in pursuit of drugs. In addition to the overwhelming force and paramilitary equipment, such as battering rams, flashbang grenades, and automatic weapons, no-knock raids are often conducted at night. Between 2010 and 2016, 94 civilians and 13 police officers were killed due to dynamic entries. An estimated 8 to 10 cases per year result in the death of an innocent civilian as a result of a no-knock warrant.”
Others have suggested alternative methods of apprehending criminals. These would include tactics like rounding up the suspect after they leave the home or arresting them at a different location. Some have recommended that in certain instances it is better to wait the suspect out rather than kick the door open. These folks believe there are better ways to conduct police work that would increase the chances of making sure all parties are safe.
Overall, Americans are not in favor of no-knock warrants. A poll conducted by Qualtrics last year found that 43.2% of respondents said they did not support the practice while only 29.76% favored it. If there is a time when the nation might be poised to take action to end, or severely limit, these raids, it could be now.
After the shooting of Breonna Taylor, it seemed that no-knock raids might become a thing of the past. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced legislation that would ban the tactic. The bill languished in the Senate as Democrats were not willing to take up the matter. But now, with the footage of Amir Locke’s shooting still circulating on social media, there is a chance the discussion could lead to action. With Democrats in sore need of a legislative victory, they might be willing to seriously address this contentious subject.
~ Read more from Jeff Charles.