Limiting no-knock warrants doesn’t just protect civilians, it may be safer for Michigan’s law enforcement as well, one expert said.
MICHIGAN — In a nation where residents are calling for police reform, Michigan is setting an example of taking real action against incidents of police brutality.
And Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has got some of Michigan’s top law enforcement officials rallied around the idea of more accountability.
She’s taking on no-knock warrants in a series of new structural police proposals in the state. The exact form of limiting warrants has yet to be announced, however.
“(Her) proposal will continue to put Michigan ahead of the nation in setting standards for professional police conduct that leads to trust between police officers and the communities they serve,” Lt. Mark Young, president of the Detroit Police Lieutenants and Sergeants Association, said. “Good police officers accept accountability as they risk their lives every day to protect Michigan’s citizens.”
One reform among a slate of policing reforms proposed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer would address yet another unarmed Black person’s death this year at the hands of police.
In March, 26-year-old Breonna Taylor was fatally shot by Louisville, Kentucky police executing a no-knock warrant looking for drugs. Taylor was not one of the suspects in the case. These warrants were resultant of the country’s “war on drugs,” PBS reported, and were designed to add a surprise element to drug raids.
Normally when executing a warrant, police knock and present the legal authority they have to search a property. No-knock warrants skip that “knock and announce” step, explains Cornell Law School, and typically are used when there is concern knocking will allow destruction of evidence or will endanger officers.
Vox reports that over 20,000 no-knock warrants are served per year nationwide. And when they go wrong, deaths like Taylor’s are all too common. But they aren’t the only way to execute a search.
“I worked in narcotics for a couple years and I never used [no-knock warrants],” said Lt. Michael Shaw, public information officer for the Michigan State Police.
Shaw also highlighted the state police’s broad support for the reforms Whitmer has proposed, drawing particular attention to the statement of Colonel Joe Gasper, the state police’s director.
“Law enforcement derives its authority from the public who entrusts us to protect and serve them, and I am fully committed to working with Gov. Whitmer and her administration to increase accountability and improve transparency in order to build community support and trust,” said Gasper.
Policies like limiting no-knock warrants and banning chokeholds are not just intended to increase civilian safety, but also police accountability.
Whitmer’s proposal wouldn’t end the practice of no-knock warrants entirely, but it does acknowledge the danger they pose not just to civilians but to officers.
“The argument is that they’re safer for police because these are dangerous people, and they need to be taken by surprise,” Radley Balko, author of Rise of the Warrior Cop, told NPR. “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.”
Balko added that if something goes wrong or a startled person reaches for a gun to defend themselves, the situation can rapidly spiral out of control. He estimated ten entirely innocent people a year die because of no-knock raids, and around 20 or 30 die as a result of no-knock raids for minor crimes.
“No-knock warrants do have a place in an agency’s toolkit, but you have to know when and how to best apply them,” Thor Eells, the executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association, told NBC. “And the manner in which that is done is usually through good training, having good policies and procedures in place, and ensuring that the people who are making those decisions are well trained.”
Louisville, where Taylor was killed, banned the practice of no-knock warrants in June. That law is named after the emergency room technician. So is a national-level no-knock reform introduced in Congress by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky).
Without the authorization from a no-knock warrant, conducting such a search would violate the Fourth Amendment.
“It’s one piece of the puzzle,” Black Lives Matter organizer John Smith told WSMV, referring to no-knock reforms. “There are many things that need to be done. Breonna’s story is just a very sad story.”
According to the latest issue of Lake Effect, 62% of Michiganders support efforts to reform police use-of-force policies.
“While Trump has focused on shifting blame and inflating his own ego, Gov. Whitmer has listened to the experts and done her best to protect our communities—and the majority of voters understand that,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan. “Michiganians’ support for police reform and measures to shift funding toward areas like education and mental health care is another encouraging sign as the Black Lives Matter movement continues to fight back against systemic racism and police violence.”