What to know about no-knock warrants, following Amir Locke's fatal shooting
Only three states have a complete ban on "no-knock" warrants.
"No-knock" warrants -- where officers don't announce themselves before entering a home -- are under scrutiny once again following the Feb. 2 fatal shooting of Amir Locke, a 22-year-old Black man who was killed during a raid by Minneapolis police officers.
The warrants, which critics say create chaotic and dangerous circumstances, have come under scrutiny before, most prominently in the 2020 killing of Breonna Taylor during a botched drug raid.
"This is an epic failure of policy, and that failed policy killed Amir Locke," civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing Locke's family, said in a press conference Monday. "Warrants create chaotic, confusing circumstances that put everyone present at risk and those people are disproportionately marginalized people of color."
While some law enforcement advocates interviewed by ABC News say no-knock warrants are needed to protect the lives of officers in dangerous situations, they recognize the need to refine the process.
Minneapolis, alongside many other cities across the country, is now reckoning with its use of no-knock warrants and how far a ban should go.
What is a no-knock warrant?
Officers are typically required to knock and announce their "identity, authority and purpose, and demand to enter" before entering a residence to execute a warrant, according to a press release from the Department of Justice that describes federal policy.
Local and state officers typically follow the same policies, according to attorney and criminal justice professor Rachel Moran during a press conference regarding Locke's death.
Warrants are generally only to be executed during a certain window of time, typically between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
No-knock warrants are used when officers believe they are going into a dangerous situation, or that the evidence being sought with a warrant may be destroyed if an announced entry may give a suspect time to do so, according to Patrick Yoes, the national president of the Fraternal Order of Police. They are also used for hostage or active shooter situations.
Some states have restrictions that require evidence of such incidences also be presented to a judge or chief for approvals in order to obtain a warrant, according to the DOJ.
No-knock warrants are used when officers believe they are going into a dangerous situation, or that the evidence being sought with a warrant may be destroyed if an announced entry may give a suspect time to do so. They are also used for hostage or active shooter situations.
Emergency circumstances can supersede typical legal requirements for a warrant and allow law enforcement to enter premises without a warrant or an approval for a no-knock procedure in most states.
"Policing, particularly with a SWAT team, is a dangerous, high-stress profession where officers are forced to make important split-second decisions in defense of themselves and fellow officers, especially when weapons are involved," said the local union, the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, in a statement to ABC-affiliate KSTP regarding Locke's death.
In the case of Locke's death, body camera footage shows officers executing a no-knock search warrant just before 7 a.m when they came across Locke, sleeping under a blanket on the couch and getting up, while holding a gun.
No-knock warrants are believed to have gotten their start during the Nixon administration and the war on drugs, Moran said.
However, laws in the 1970s expanded the use of no-knock warrants for federal law enforcement, but the laws were repealed after just a few years due to abuse.
"Quick-knock" raids, which have also become controversial, are when officers forcibly enter less than 20 seconds after announcing their presence, according to the Council on Criminal Justice.
Are they legal?
Florida, Oregon and Virginia are the only states to ban no-knock warrants and at least 34 states have some kind of restriction or limitation on the use of these kinds of search warrants.
In June 2020, the Louisville, Kentucky, Metro Council unanimously passed Breonna's Law -- named in honor of police-shooting victim Breonna Taylor -- outlawing all no-knock warrants and requiring body cameras be turned on before and after every search.
In September 2021, the Department of Justice also announced it was limiting the circumstances in which the department’s federal law enforcement components are authorized to use unannounced entries.
Agents will now be limited to only engaging in no-knock procedures when there is a threat of physical violence. Before, these warrants could be used for the preservation of evidence or if knocking and announcing one's presence was futile and no response is given.
However, an exception can be made even when there is no imminent threat of physical safety if the agent gets approval from the head of the law enforcement agency and the U.S. attorney or assistant attorney general before seeking approval from a judge.
“Building trust and confidence between law enforcement and the public we serve is central to our mission at the Justice Department,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in a statement on the announcement.
And on Monday, the Biden administration announced it is considering restricting agents from other federal agencies as well, alongside the Justice Department's decision.
The law in Minneapolis
In Minneapolis, where Locke was killed, the warrant policy was last changed in November 2020. Police officers are required to announce their presence and purpose before entering a home, except for when announcing the officers' presence would create an imminent threat.
In those cases, a supervisor can authorize officers to enter without announcing their presence, according to the policy. Supervisors are required to provide evidence to support that decision before it is signed and approved by a judge.
The change has not significantly reduced the use of no-knock warrants, local advocates say.
The city reported in November 2020 that it had been averaging nearly 140 no-knock warrants per year.
In the first 10 months after the policy change, the city reported to local media that it had requested 90 no-knock warrants.
Locke's family is calling for a complete ban on this kind of warrant.
Yoes told ABC News that there are specific uses that are beneficial for the safety of officers and that no-knock warrants should still be an available tool in certain circumstances.
"We're very, very, very acutely aware of the fact that there's a lot of controversy around the use of warrants," Yoes told ABC News. "We learned from these errors and try to improve the processes that we have, and I'm certain that this will happen here, too."
He said the Fraternal Order of Police understands that restrictions can be necessary to eliminate the potential for tragedy, but is hesitant to completely remove options that are intended for the physical protection of law enforcement agents.
"We recognize the challenges with no-knock warrants," Yoes said. "We are very much in favor of having meaningful discussions on how we can make it more checks and balances through elected officials and heads of agencies before they're authorized."
How deadly are no-knock warrants?
A 2017 New York Times investigation that found at least 81 civilians and 13 law enforcement officers have died in no-knock and quick-knock raids between 2010 and 2016 in the U.S -- with many more have been seriously wounded.
They can be dangerous since those inside the household don’t know who is charging through their front door.
“My son Amir was a law-abiding citizen who did not have a criminal history,” Andre Locke said in a Feb. 4 press conference. “My son Amir was loved by many of us, by our family and many people, everyone that he came in touch with. My son Amir did what was right. He did all the things that he was supposed to do.”
"They're an extremely risky, yet low-reward tactic," said Pete Kraska, a criminal justice professor and researcher who worked on Breonna's Law in Kentucky and is working with Minneapolis officials to work on new local legislation regarding warrants.
A disproportionate number -- 42% -- of people impacted by SWAT search warrant deployments, according to ACLU research, are Black.
Taylor, a Black woman, was shot by Louisville police when they executed a no-knock warrant while she slept in her home. The shooting took place when the home Taylor shared with her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, was raided by three plainclothes officers. Police said the no-knock warrant was related to drugs.
In Locke's case, his family says he also legally owned the gun he was holding when he was seen on the couch by officers. He was shot less than 10 seconds after officers entered the room.
He is seen holding a gun that Locke's family says he legally owned as he begins to sit up and is shot less than 10 seconds after officers entered the room.
Locke was not named in the warrant, according to family attorney Crump. The warrant was being executed on behalf of St. Paul police, who were searching for a homicide suspect who is not Locke.
"These events unfold in seconds, but the trauma is long-lasting, a young man lost his life and his friends and family are in mourning," said acting MPD Chief Amelia Huffman at a Feb. press conference.
She later adds, "The still shot shows the image of the firearm in the subject's hands… That's the moment when the officer had to make a split-second decision to assess the circumstances and determine whether he felt like there was an articulable threat."
"Ultimately, that decision of whether that threshold was met will be examined by the county attorney's office that reviews this case," Huffman said.
The officer who shot and killed Locke was identified by police as Mark Hanneman. In accordance with policy, he's been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation into the incident. It is unclear if Hanneman has legal representation.
"This particular SWAT team was conducting a homicide-suspect search warrant, authorized by a judge, as part of an investigation of a violent crime," the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis said in a statement. "Officers were obviously prepared for a very dangerous and high-risk situation."
The statement also read, "No officer goes into a dangerous setting like this wanting to use a weapon. That decision was not taken lightly, and the impact of the use of deadly force will affect these officers, their families, and the family of Mr. Locke for the rest of their lives."