Minneapolis City Council holds discussion on no-knock warrant policies

On Friday, February 4, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey issued a moratorium on no-knock warrants in the City of Minneapolis. The measure prevents the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) from requesting and carrying out no-knock warrants — sometimes referred to as ‘no-announce’ warrants — except in cases where police officers believe there is an “imminent threat of harm.”

The measure comes as the city reels after Officer Mark Hanneman fatally shot 22-year-old Amir Locke while carrying out a no-knock warrant. Locke was startled awake by officers who used a key to open the door to the downtown Minneapolis apartment where he was sleeping. Body camera footage released by MPD shows Locke stirring awake on a couch as he reaches for a handgun. In the video, his finger appears to be in the safety position aside the barrel (Locke was a registered gun owner). He was shot three times less than ten seconds after officers entered the apartment.

City council members met on Monday, February 7, to get clarity on the no-knock moratorium, as well as the history of no-knock warrants in the U.S. The council cannot create or pass police department policy — that power lies with the mayor.

Presenters at the City Council’s Policy and Government Committee meeting included Rachel Moran, associate professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, and University of St. Thomas law student Sarah Murtada. Civil rights attorneys Ben Crump, Antonio Romanucci, and Jeff Storms joined the call. These attorneys successfully sued the City on behalf of the George Floyd family and are currently representing Amir Locke’s family.

According to Moran, no-knock warrants first became practice under President Nixon’s “war on drugs.” They were immediately controversial and so dangerous that the practice was almost repealed four years later. Police used no-knock warrants 1,500 times per year in the 1980s. By 2010, it was 60,000 to 70,000 per year, according to data supplied by Romanucci. Between 2010 and 2016, at least 94 people were killed in the U.S. as a result of no-knock warrants. Of those 94 deaths, 13 were police officers.

“You can see how this has exploded into an epidemic,” said Romanucci.

No-knock warrants have been authorized by state law in Minnesota for many years, but there have not been policies or laws specifying how they should be used. In November 2020, Mayor Frey announced new policy regulating MPD’s use of no-knock warrants. While many people, including Frey’s campaign messaging and personnel, have referred to the change as a “ban,” it did not ban the practice but required officers to announce their presence before crossing the threshold of a residence, which they did in the seconds before Locke was killed.

If officers felt that announcing themselves would create imminent danger, they could request to abandon the announce requirement.

In November 2020, MPD reported they had been averaging 139 no-knock warrants per year. In the first ten months after Frey’s November 2020 regulation, the city had already requested 90 no-knock warrants. According to a recent Star Tribune article, in January 2022 alone MPD requested 13 no-knock warrants.

In 2021, Minnesota lawmakers passed statewide law requiring police who are requesting a no-knock warrant to specify why they are “unable” to search or arrest without use of such warrant and to explain if they had gone through investigative efforts using other means. Departments must also explain why they cannot carry out the search or arrest during daylight hours. 

According to Romanucci, “The vast majority of these requests are approved by judges because they rely on what is put in front of them [by law enforcement].”

Only three states have banned no-knock warrants outright: Florida, Virginia, and Oregon. Louisville, San Antonio, and Memphis have citywide bans.

Saint Paul has not created an official ban, but Saint Paul police have not carried out a no-knock warrant since 2016. The Saint Paul police had a clearance rate — homicides solved — of 91 percent in 2020, compared to 37 percent for Minneapolis police.

Alternative Policing Policy

Murtada listed five things to consider if the City of Minneapolis were to institute a full ban:

1. Search and arrest warrants need to be carried out during daylight hours.

2. Officers need to knock before entering the threshold.

3. Officers need to announce repeatedly and clearly their presence as law enforcement.

4. Officers need to wait 30 seconds before entering a residence.

5. Body cameras must always be turned on and monthly record keeping needs to happen regarding warrants. Today, departments across the state are mandated to report no-knock warrant usage annually.

There is no national data collected on no-knock warrants, according to Romanucci. What is available comes directly from law enforcement agencies or open records requests by journalists. The federal government does not require reporting, and there is no third party that gathers or analyzes data. For this reason, it is difficult to articulate just how dangerous these warrants are, and how they disproportionately impact marginalized communities.

Amir Locke

“Right now we don’t know how many cases are like Amir Locke,” Murtada said. “We don’t know how many people are impacted or even killed by no-knock warrants because there is no transparency.”

Storms urged city officials to consider what can happen if “a city doesn’t make necessary changes to its policing policies.” He cited cases in which a federal monitor was appointed to oversee the department, meaning the city would lose control of its police force, which happened in Oakland.

“Half-measures have gotten cities nowhere,” Storms added.

Mayor Frey stated that his moratorium will be in in place “for as long as it allows us to get the policy itself set up.” He is currently enlisting the help of Dr. Pete Kraska, who helped institute the citywide ban in Louisville, and DeRay McKesson, a civil rights activist, to craft policy that “goes further” than what was initiated in November 2020.

Council member Elliot Payne indicates he will propose an ordinance amending the city charter to create a Department of Public Safety. Minneapolis voters rejected a ballot measure to replace MPD with a Department of Public Safety last fall.

Related Resources

Thoughts on a Minneapolis Department of Public Safety

How Saint Paul has handled its public safety concerns

How the state legislature is considering funding public safety

Commentary about Minneapolis public safety after the November 2021 election

Action = Change

Communities United Against Police Brutality offered these specific recommendations for long-term change after George Floyd was murdered, reflecting a few decades of attention to the issue of unnecessary police violence.