As crime rises, we can assist police by reevaluating no-knock raids
Criminal activity throughout the country has drastically increased since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to levels not seen in decades. Nationwide, a total of 21,570 murders were committed in 2020, yielding the largest annual increase on record, registering at nearly 30 percent. In the first half of this year, compared to the first half of 2021, aggravated assaults increased by 4 percent, robberies by 19 percent, residential burglaries by 6 percent, nonresidential burglaries by 8 percent, motor vehicle thefts by 15 percent, and larcenies by 20 percent.
Not only are civilians suffering directly, but the crime wave is putting an even greater strain on police departments, as officers face heightened risks on the job.
As policymakers look for practical measures to protect law enforcement and the communities they serve, one practice which is ripe for improvement, and commonly overlooked, is the implementation and execution of no-knock raids.
No-knock raids are executed via judicially authorized search warrants which omit the standard “knock and announce” element most searches provide. The raids are often conducted by SWAT teams, taking place during the early hours of the morning, or late at night, with the intent of catching suspects off guard.
Proponents of no-knock raids argue they minimize the opportunity a suspect may have to harm a police officer, evade arrest, or destroy evidence, all while promoting public safety. However, when officers are not required to knock and announce their presence, botched raids often occur, resulting in serious bodily injury and death for both civilians and law enforcement.
Infamously, Breonna Taylor was killed during a no-knock raid in Louisville in March of 2020 after her boyfriend Kenneth Walker shot an officer, unaware that those breaking into the apartment were police. Attempted murder charges against Walker were soon dismissed by prosecutors given the conflict created by the search, and in August of this year, four of the officers involved in the raid were charged with federal crimes.
There has been a significant increase in the use of no-knock warrants since the “war on drugs” campaign which originated in the 1970s and gained momentum in the 1980s. It is estimated that in the early 1980s, law enforcement utilized no-knock or “quick-knock” warrants about 1,500 times per year. Today, it is estimated that the number of no-knock raids executed annually is over 20,000.
A new report by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—No-Knock Raids: Examining the Risk, Controversy and Constitutionality—examines the realities behind the law enforcement practice which often leads to deadly unintended consequences for both polices officers and civilians.
In a review of 818 SWAT deployments conducted across 11 states between 2010 and 2013, it was found that 62 percent were for drug searches; of those, 60 percent employed forced entry. Between 2010 to 2016, 81 civilians and 13 law enforcement officers were killed in forced-entry searches. Officers represented 10 percent of fatalities while executing standard “knock-and-announce” search warrants and 20 percent of fatalities associated with no-knock warrants.
These raids have become far more dangerous for police officers than ever anticipated. Utilizing no-knock raids for relatively small drug-bust investigations or to serve a standard arrest warrant may not be the smartest use of such a practice, given the associated risks and dangers. Currently, 13 states have laws explicitly permitting no-knock warrants while most other states issue them based on a judge’s discretion. Only Florida, Oregon, Connecticut, Tennessee, and Virginia have banned the use of the practice entirely.
Several counties and municipalities across the country have passed outright bans on the use of no-knock raids, with Louisville, Ky., among the first to do so, while leading the greater national conversation on the issue. The cities of Pomona, Calif.; Killeen, Texas; and Santa Fe, N.M., have also banned the use of such raids. San Antonio, absent from any tragedy or controversy, limited the use of no-knocks raids with Police Chief William McManus declaring they will be used only where “exigent circumstances pose a serious safety risk to the general public or officers.” He continued to explain that “reducing the potential for serious bodily injury or death outweighs the need to recover illegal drugs or contraband.”
What is needed now throughout the states are well-trained and well-led police forces with clear objectives and strategies to target the violent crime occurring on the streets—not a continued over-use of a practice which unnecessarily puts the lives of officers at risk.
Nino Marchese is the director of the Criminal Justice Task Force at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and author of the new ALEC report, No Knock Raids: Examining the Risk, Controversy and Constitutionality.
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