Police claim they need “no-knock” warrants to pursue murderers and violent criminals. But, this rarely seems to be the case. In reality, no-knock warrants are a tool that law enforcement used to beef up the war on drugs in the 1980s, and cops have continued to use them mainly for that purpose ever since.

No-knock warrants allow police to enter a building without knocking or announcing themselves. This creates an element of surprise. Law enforcement apologists claim boosts officer safety and keeps criminals from destroying evidence. But oftentimes, the reaction of surprised occupants, often awakened from a dead sleep, leads to a violent police response.

That’s what happened to Breonna Taylor.

The 26-year-old woman was in bed with her boyfriend Kenneth Walker in the early-morning hours of March 13 when Louisville police broke into her home executing a no-knock warrant issued earlier that day. Walker claims he heard banging on the door but never hear anybody say “police.” When the officers broke down the door, Walker fired a shot, hitting an officer in the leg. Police returned fire, killing Taylor. She suffered at least eight gunshot wounds.

Taylors death sparked a movement to do away with no-knock warrants. Police insist they need them to catch dangerous criminals. But more often than not, they are employed in run-of-the-mill drug raids, not in pursuit of murders and rapists as police claim.

Let’s take for example the case of Lexington, Kentucky. Currently, the City Council is embroiled in a legal battle with a police union after passing a ban on “no-knock” warrants earlier this year. Fraternal Order of Police attorney Scott Crosbie said police believe the no-knock warrants will keep them safe and that they should remain on the table as a bargaining tool. According to the FOP, Lexington is experiencing a 67 percent increase in homicides, combined with staffing shortages. But what does this have to do with “no-knock” warrants?

The implication seems to be that without the “no-knock” warrants, police will be put in danger as they try to apprehend violent and dangerous criminals such as murderers and rapists.

But the Lexington Herald-Leader obtained copies of past no-knock warrants in 2020.  All of the cases were drug-related – no murderers were apprehended.

Community leaders opposed to the practice argue that “no-knock” warrants increase the danger to both police and the community. We have seen play out over and over again in cases like Breonna Taylor, Bounkham Phonesavanh, along with Dennis Tuttle and his wife Rhogena Nicholas. In this case, four officers were also shot, and the warrant was obtained under questionable circumstances.

In every single one of these cases, the warrants were drug-related.

Radley Balko, Investigative journalist and author of the book “Rise of the Warrior Cop,” told NPR he doesn’t think police are being honest when they say they need no-knock warrants to catch murderers.

“The argument is that they’re safer for police because these are dangerous people, and they need to be taken by surprise. I don’t think that’s true. I mean, my experience in reporting on this issue for about 15 years is that, you know, when you break somebody’s door down in the middle of the night, you elicit a very primal reaction in them, kind of a fight-or-flight response.”

Not only does this raise the question as to whether or not drug possession should be a death sentence, but there is an even broader issue here. Should addressing the drug problem endanger the lives of law enforcement and the general public in the way that it clearly does. And, why doesn’t law enforcement itself have a bigger issue with this?

“I would say on average, we see about 8 to 10 cases per year where a completely innocent person is killed among these raids. We probably see another 20 or 30 where someone who, you know, may have had some drugs in the house is killed,” Balko said.

Similar legislation to the Lexington ban has been popping up in states across the nation even prior to this year. It’s important to note that most of these bills and ordinances are not just removing or limiting the use of “no-knock” warrants. They are also including other things that benefit the community, including tighter rules regarding the specific execution of knock and announce warrants. These elements can work toward creating a better relationship between local law enforcement and community members who are currently at odds. It won’t come from law enforcement being disingenuous regarding any kind of warrant.

“I believe there’s nothing impossible for us to accomplish when we work together, when we listen to one another, and when we are willing to work tougher to make appropriate changes,” said Rev. David Peoples, Jabez Missionary Baptist Church. “This no-knock warrant ban is a win for this community.”

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