It seems that every few years emerges a new trend, a new flavor of criticism for police officers and/or police procedure that the media and Dishonest Critics focus on in suspicious unison. Years ago the “problem” was the use of TASERS, then “Excited Delirium”, eventually “choke holds” had their turn, and most recently the focus has shifted to No Knock Warrants (NKW).
We Have a Warrant
A warrant is an order from a judge that gives police officers the authority to arrest an individual (arrest warrant) or search some structure (house, car, boat, etc…) (search warrant). There is case law, state law, and local department policy on how police officers actually go about enforcing warrants, conducting searches, and making arrests.
For example some jurisdictions only allow search warrants to be performed between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. In these jurisdictions a police officer would have to get “special authorization” from the judge - in order to enforce the warrant outside of these hours. The police officer would typically have to prove that some exigent circumstances exist in order for a judge to grant this extra permission.
The Knock-and-Announce Rule
The service of warrants usually comes with the police knocking and announcing their presence prior to entry into a home or structure. This is reasonable because as a societal norm we want people to follow lawful orders from police. Therefore, police need to at least: (1) alert individuals of their presence (knock) and also (2) inform individuals who they are (announce).
Under this “knock-and-announce” rule, an announcement such as, “Police! Open the door. We have a warrant.” would be sufficient. Once the knocking and announcement has occurred police officers are required to give the occupants a “reasonable” amount of time to comply - before entry into the home can be completed with force.
No Knock Warrants
NKW’s are just what they sound like - serving a warrant absent the “knocking” requirement.
In Richards v. Wisconsin, the Supreme Court held that an officer is not required to “knock and announce” if doing so would be unreasonable. “Unreasonable” includes situations where officers suspect (and can prove to a judge) that knocking and announcing their presence would be:
or result in the destruction of evidence.
On face value these seem like reasonable concerns, but let’s take a closer look.
Let’s start with the most extreme example, because this has to be accounted for when creating police policy. Because if there is a bad situation - police will be the ones who have to deal with it. If police had an arrest/search warrant for Ted Kaczynski (“The Unabomber”) and his property - would knocking and announcing be reasonable? Is that the tactic that police officers should employ? It would seem like giving Mr. Kaczynski any extra time or warning about imminent police presence would allow a guy who makes and delivers explosives the necessary time to cause harm to himself, police officers, neighbors in the area, and/or destroy evidence.
I hope that this example is enough to convince you at a minimum that a complete ban on NKW - would not make sense - as there are extremely dangerous persons in society that police are tasked to arrest.
Now, maybe you will come a little further.
A young man has a warrant for a violent felony and had previously fired a gun at police officers. Should police officers be allowed to obtain and utilize a NKW to make this arrest? Or should they be required to knock on his front door and give him “reasonable time” to either comply or arm himself with a rifle?
I acknowledge that the “Unabomber” example is an unlikely scenario that local police officers will face, however, this second example of the young man - this is the type of individual that police officers are arresting every day across the country.
This is a question for every community and courtroom to decide. There are reasonable people on both sides of this debate. And these important and complex issues should be debated in a vigorous manner. Just make sure you are hearing an argument from an honest broker of ideas and not a Dishonest Critic.
I hope that everyone can appreciate the very real officer safety concern of serving an arrest warrant, on a violent offender, who does not want to go back to jail, and has a history of violence towards police. Just maybe - we should err on the side of not giving that guy a whole lot of notice that police are there to arrest him. People like this have earned the element of surprise.
Destruction of Evidence
There is and should be less sympathy for this argument. The idea is that if police officers “knock and announce” during a search warrant that criminals would have the opportunity to flush or destroy evidence. For example, if police officers were serving a warrant in an attempt to confiscate methamphetamine or fentanyl - even large quantities of those drugs could easily be flushed down the toilet in a matter of a few seconds. Therefore, a police investigation that takes time, resources, and a lot of taxpayer money could be completely wasted if suspects flush their illegal substances down the toilet - as police knock and announce their presence and intent to search.
The issue of how many resources municipalities should put towards drug enforcement should be debated and discussed in each community. However, if political leaders are going to make drug trafficking an area of concern - it only makes sense to allow police officers the option to finish these investigations with NKWs where reasonable.
Say Her Name
This was the incident that put NKW’s on the map and at the forefront of both Honest and Dishonest Critics of police. There were certainly issues and problems with how police acted in this case but none of the issues were with a NKW and the use of deadly force by police was lawful, justified, and reasonable.
In short, Ms. Taylor’s boyfriend (Kenneth Walker) stated that he and Ms. Taylor were awoken by loud knocking. Mr. Walker stated that they believed that it could have been Ms. Taylor’s ex-boyfriend (Jamarcus Glover) who is a violent criminal. The dispute between police officers and Mr. Walker is over whether or not the police officers “announced” themselves as police. There is simply no factual dispute over whether or not the police actually knocked on the door. Both the police and Mr. Walker agree that the police knocked loudly on the apartment door - prior to making entry.
Therefore, the warrant served in the Breonna Taylor case - was simply just not a NKW. There is a reasonable argument to be made that if the police officers had served the warrant as a NKW - that they would have taken Ms. Taylor and Mr. Walker by surprise. The use of the element of surprise by trained police officers via a NKW is usually enough to secure all individuals in a residence before they have a chance to know what happened. The knocking by police in this case gave Mr. Walker and Ms. Taylor the time necessary to get dressed, grab a firearm, and both stand in the hallway waiting - as police broke through the door.
In short, it is likely that if police had utilized a NKW - that Ms. Taylor would still be alive today and Sgt. John Mattingly would not have suffered a nearly fatal gunshot wound.
NKW’s are not appropriate for every arrest or search warrant served by police. However, there are circumstances where a NKW is the safest and most reasonable tactic that police officers can utilize to arrest violent offenders.
There are jurisdictions that have banned NKWs and those decisions are always based on emotional arguments from screeching and uninformed activists and not due to a thorough policy analysis to ensure that police officers are utilizing best practices.
Every policy written and tactic deployed by police officers should be Constitutional and also be the safest thing for both the public and police officers. In many cases, when tasked to take violent maniacs to jail - NKWs simply are the best way for police to achieve the lawful objective.
Read our article on Dishonest Critics
Even Biden appointed Attorney General Merrick Garland stated that the actual use of force that killed Ms. Taylor was lawful.
Sgt. Mattingly wrote a book about this incident titled “12 Seconds in the Dark” and it is a fantastic read. Highly recommend!
Another great article!