Criminal Justice

Examining the Risks of No-Knock Raids

A no-knock raid in Minneapolis which resulted in the death of Amir Locke has reignited the conversation over how and when the controversial law enforcement practice should be utilized. After pulling his handgun during an early morning raid, Amir Locke was shot and killed by police less than 10 seconds after they first entered the apartment. He was not the suspect for which the no-knock warrant was issued.

No-knock warrants are judicially authorized search warrants which allow law enforcement to forcibly enter a residence without having to announce their presence or identify themselves before doing so. These no-knock raids are often conducted by SWAT teams taking place during the early hours of the morning or late at night to catch residing suspects off-guard. Currently, 34 states allow for the regular use of no-knock warrants, while 12 states restrict the circumstances of their use. Only Florida, Oregon, Connecticut, Tennessee, and Virginia have banned them entirely. 

There are an estimated 20,000 no-knock raids executed in the U.S. each year. In a review of 818 S.W.A.T. deployments conducted across 11 states between 2010 and 2013, it was found that 62% were for drug searches; of those, 60% employed forced entry. 

Police have the legal authority to execute search warrants, even if they aren’t required to announce themselves before entering. The U.S. Supreme Court has even upheld the constitutionality of no-knock warrants in certain circumstances. 

Proponents of these raids argue that they are needed to ensure successful evidence collection, officer safety, and the greater safety of the public. The Saint Paul Police Department argued that the no-knock raid which resulted in the death of Amir Locke was “necessary to prevent the loss, destruction, or removal of the objects of the search, or to protect the safety of the searchers or the public.” 

However, no-knock raids are double-edged swords, as they often place both civilians and law enforcement at greater risk for injury or death. Between 2010 to 2016, 81 civilians and 13 law enforcement officers were killed in forced-entry searches. Officers represented 10% of fatalities while executing standard “knock-and-announce” search warrants and 20% of fatalities associated with no-knock warrants.

In 2014, police in Killeen, TX executed a no-knock, nighttime raid on the home of Marvin Guy. Guy began firing at the officers in his home, striking two and killing one during the shootout. In a similar Texas raid in 2010, the Burleson County Sheriff’s Department targeted the home of Henry Magee, who also opened fire on officers, killing Deputy Adam Sowders. In both cases, the investigations targeted their subjects for suspected non-violent drug offenses. 

Several counties and municipalities across the country have either banned or required restricted uses of  no-knock raids. The City of Louisville banned them months after Breonna Taylor was killed by police. One year after her death, Kentucky changed its laws to limit the scope of their use. Last year, the City of Killeen, TX banned their use after a 2019 raid led to yet another unnecessary death. Minneapolis reformed certain no-knock standards in 2021, and following Amir Locke’s death, the mayor has proposed a full prohibition on the practice.

San Antonio is a city which limited no-knocks raids on its own accord, without being prompted by tragedy or outrage. In 2020, Police Chief William McManus stated that no-knock arrest warrants 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.”

Given the heightened risk for injury or death, it is unsurprising that some states and localities are re-examining the practice of no-knock raids. In doing so, policymakers should strive to maximize liberty while prioritizing the safety of both law enforcement officers and civilian suspects.

In Depth: Criminal Justice

The American Legislative Exchange Council is proud to be a leader on criminal justice reform. For over a decade, the ALEC task force on criminal justice has brought state legislators and stakeholders together for the purpose of driving sound criminal justice policies. ALEC members focus on new and innovative state…

+ Criminal Justice In Depth