The Potluck

Democrats at the Capitol seek swift action to restrict no-knock search warrants

By: - February 8, 2022 1:57 pm

A Minneapolis police squad car in May 2021. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

House Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday said they would take action on legislation that would impose tougher restrictions on the use of no-knock warrants by Minnesota police departments. 

It’s not an outright ban, as some activists and other Democratic elected officials have called for, but it would have prevented the killing of Amir Locke, said state Rep. Athena Hollins, DFL-St. Paul, the bill’s sponsor. 

“No-knock warrants are a tool in a toolbox, but it’s a tool that should only be used in the tiniest sliver of cases: kidnapping, hostage situations and human trafficking,” Hollins said, noting that the city of St. Paul hasn’t executed such a warrant since 2016. “No-knock warrants are bound to kill more innocent people, which is why we need to stop using them.”

Sometimes referred to as dynamic entry warrants, no-knock warrants have come under bipartisan criticism after Minneapolis police conducted a predawn raid during which an officer killed Amir Locke, a 22-year-old Black man sleeping on the couch of an apartment that was part of a search warrant. 

Nneka Constantino, Locke’s cousin, joined DFL lawmakers in calling for restrictions on such warrants. “We feel, as a family, that it’s systems that need to be held accountable,” Constantino said, criticizing a “militarized approach to policing.” 

Asked why she did not propose a ban, Hollins said in a follow-up email that she was following the Locke family’s preference.

“The Locke family actually does not want an all-out ban,” Hollins said. “We can’t rule out exigent circumstances where a no-knock warrant could lead to less harm, but those cases will turn up less than once a year, a stark contrast to the hundreds of warrants MPD has served in the past years.”

Two GOP state senators who are running for governor have called for further review of no-knock warrants, but stopped short of calling for a specific policy change. 

The Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, a gun rights advocacy group, recently issued strong statements against such warrants, saying they create dangerous situations for both police officers and law-abiding gun owners. 

Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, called Locke’s death “tragic and heartbreaking.”

He did not indicate if he supported any new policy changes, but said: “As more information about no-knock warrants comes to light, feedback from the community and from law enforcement will be an integral part of this conversation… It is imperative to have proper policies in place to protect the public and law enforcement.”

On Monday, a key GOP Senate leader said he was hesitant to consider new changes to the state law on no-knock warrants, which had been updated last year to include additional requirements for their use. 

State Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, chair of the Senate judiciary committee, said he believed Minneapolis had changed their practices. 

“I really am very cautious about making any further statements until we have more facts about the police action in Minneapolis,” Limmer told reporters on Monday. “We thought Minneapolis had made some corrections in their tactical policies regarding no-knock warrants as of last session. I don’t see that changing right now.”

Limmer said he was opposed to an outright ban, as groups like the Minnesota/Dakotas Area State Conference of the NAACP have called for. 

Hollins said she hopes her legislation would receive quick, stand-alone action in the Legislature rather than be part of a broader package of legislation.

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