Close the door on no-knock raids and usher in training and resources
ISIS kingpin Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi received a benefit innocent U.S. citizen Amir Locke was denied — notice of a raid. Amid Locke’s funeral, this stark dichotomy underscores the need to rein in no-knock police raids on Americans.
Locke, 22, was shot and killed in his apartment by Minneapolis police executing a no-knock warrant. His death has sparked protests and renewed criticism over the tactic, which is typically carried out in the middle of the night.
While police must be trained and permitted to use force and the element of surprise when appropriate, unannounced raids should be prohibited or restricted to cases involving clear danger or imminent threat to life — and supported by verified intelligence.
Notably, there is a lack of research supporting no-knock raids. The Council on Criminal Justice Task Force on Policing examined studies that encompass both no-knock raids and SWAT-team raids that involved no notice or limited notice. Three studies showed no correlation between these raids and crime rates. In addition, more than 60 percent of these raids occurred in drug cases, suggesting that they are not prioritized for investigations involving homicides and other serious public safety threats.
Supporters of no-knock raids cite the potential for suspects to escape and officer safety — especially given that targets may be heavily armed and may destroy crucial evidence. Yet, given that the Supreme Court determined in U.S. v. Banks that notice of 15 to 20 seconds constitutes a “quick-knock” raid, officers can effectively address cases where there is strong reason to believe evidence destruction could occur by providing minimal notice that makes spoliation very difficult if not impossible. While there is always a risk of escape, policing leaders have developed a wide range of tactics to reduce it, such as surrounding a residence to form a perimeter, disabling a vehicle that could be used to escape, and taking advantage of advancements in surveillance technology.
When it comes to officer safety, one analysis found officers represented a 20 percent share of fatalities in no-knock raids, compared with 10 percent in forcible raids with notice. Moreover, investing in protective gear and training to conduct announced raids is an attractive alternative for protecting officer safety. A RAND study found officers wearing armor had a 20 percent chance of dying from a torso shot, compared with a 68 percent risk for those unprotected. Ballistic helmets similarly reduce the risk of head injuries. Yet such equipment is not always available, particularly in small departments where officers’ only access might be to buy their own.
Several key reforms are needed.
First, to the extent they are used at all, no-knock raids should only occur in exigent circumstances as part of investigations targeting the most serious crimes — and in the case of search warrants, should involve the use of surveillance to identify a time when no one is likely to be present in the building. In addition, a Threat Assessment Matrix that assesses factors such as whether uninvolved parties or children might be on the premises should be compiled not just before no-knock raids, but also prior to using a SWAT team to make a forcible entry, even with some degree of notice.
Jurisdictions also should require the head of the relevant law enforcement agency to sign off on any no-knock raids, a step that bipartisan Texas legislation would mandate. This parallels the military context where soldiers follow orders issued at the highest levels based on all intelligence and full consideration of other options.
Finally, given the importance of transparency in cultivating trust between police agencies and the communities they serve, data on activities such as no-knock raids, SWAT raids, and warrantless searches should be regularly published online along with other outcomes such as injuries to residents and officers and whether contraband was found.
Such reforms were endorsed by the CCJ Policing Task Force, a group that spanned leaders in law enforcement, civil rights, police oversight, and community advocacy. States like Utah and Florida have enacted limitations, reflecting a shared concern about individual liberty and the tension these raids create with the exercise of Second Amendment rights. Mr. Locke’s gun, which Minneapolis authorities say prompted the officer to open fire, was reportedly a legal weapon. Notably, some 23 states, mostly conservative ones, have some form of the “castle doctrine,” which buttresses the legal standing of residents who use deadly force against intruders.
Restricting unannounced raids also aligns with the broader push to shift American policing from a warrior model to a guardian model. Accomplishing that transition will require a greater emphasis on the right type of training. One survey found the average police academy provides recruits with just ten hours of training on communication skills, eight hours on de-escalation, and eight hours on crisis intervention — compared to 107 hours on firearms and defensive tactics. Traditional curricula also draw too heavily from the military context, including drills focused on yelling at one another.
Supporting police with the right training and protective gear — even when that means more funding — can help us move beyond no-knock raids and toward a guardian mindset that unites police and communities.
Our police and military both merit our admiration for taking on challenging and perilous missions, but if we conflate the two, our individual lives and liberties may too often become a casualty.