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Activists Say A Simple Ban On 'No-Knock' Raids May Not Be Enough


To other news now - there's a growing movement to limit the no-knock warrants that let police burst into residences without warning. Activists were inspired by the death of Breonna Taylor, who was shot during a questionable drug raid on her apartment in Louisville last March. NPR's Martin Kaste has more.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: No-knock legislation is being considered across the country this year in places like Kentucky, Ohio and New York. The one state that collects annual data about police forcible entry raids is Utah, and the numbers there show that they're mostly used for drug enforcement. Connor Boyack runs a libertarian policy institute there called Libertas, and he says it's time to act on those statistics.

CONNOR BOYACK: Do we really want to be jeopardizing the lives of individuals for drug searches? As we've seen - we've seen it in Utah. We've seen it with Breonna Taylor. We've seen it elsewhere. We're losing lives over this. And so is it worth it?

KASTE: But as legislation is drawn up, the activists are realizing that a simple ban on no-knock raids may not do that much. Actual no-knocks are relatively rare. Even the raid that killed Breonna Taylor may not have been executed as a no-knock.


KENNETH WALKER: Yes, somebody was - y'all was banging at the door.

KASTE: At least, that's what we hear in this body camera video from the immediate aftermath of the raid. Taylor's boyfriend accuses the police of just barging in and shooting, but a cop on the scene denies that.


UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: No. No. We announced three times, police search warrant. Don't try that.

KASTE: It's hard to make out there, but the cop in the video says, no, no, we announced three times, police search warrant. If that's true, then the raid was executed as a knock-and-announce, and a ban on no-knocks wouldn't have stopped it.

KATIE RYAN: We actually have to be more stringent about all types of search warrants and especially knock-and-announce warrants.

KASTE: That's Katie Ryan with a criminal justice reform group known as Campaign Zero.

RYAN: Flimsy legislation would not stop officers from technically knocking and announcing, hitting the door once, saying, officers, then using the battering ram, you know, and shredding someone's door because warrant policy and legislation has so few requirements.

KASTE: So they've expanded their campaign to add requirements to knock-and-announce warrants too. Their wish list includes things like limiting the raids to daytime hours, making sure the officers are in uniform and that the intel about who's inside the house is up-to-date. But perhaps the most contentious of their proposals is the minimum wait time. They say police should pause at least 30 seconds after they first announce themselves. Virginia state legislator Lashrecse Aird thinks that makes sense.

LASHRECSE AIRD: Knock. Announce. Wait for someone inside to respond, to gather themselves, you know, make a decision about how they are getting ready to choose to interact with law enforcement before any additional action is taken.

KASTE: Aird got a package of warrant requirements passed in Virginia this fall, but the 30-second wait time was something she could not get through. It was called dangerous to officers. And that's the feeling of Thor Eells. He used to be a SWAT commander in Colorado Springs, and he's now the head of the National Tactical Officers Association.

THOR EELLS: To have a blanket stipulation of a mandated time for waiting just increases risk.

KASTE: He says 30 seconds may seem a reasonable wait time outside of a large single-family house in the middle of the night. But outside, say, a small motel room containing a potentially armed fugitive, 30 seconds would be way too long for those officers at the door. Eells believes fast-paced forced entries should be a last resort, but they should still be there as an option, along with other approaches such as partial entries or surrounding the residence and calling the suspect by phone.

EELLS: All of these are part of this whole risk analysis that is absolutely the most critical component in determining what option is likely to be the most successful with the least amount of risk to everybody involved.

KASTE: He thinks the courts have actually got the balance right by telling police to be, quote, "reasonable" in how they execute a warrant. And if police go too far, the court can always throw out the evidence from the raid. But Eells says he also understands what he calls the emotion coming out of incidents such as the death of Breonna Taylor, which is driving this campaign to more clearly define what a reasonable police raid should look like.

Martin Kaste, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF O LAKE SONG, "MORNING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.
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