The Potluck

Mayor Frey says his 2020 no-knock change wasn’t a ban; moratorium still has exceptions

By: - February 7, 2022 5:58 pm

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey addresses the City Council on no-knock warrants Monday, Feb. 7, 2022.

Mayor Jacob Frey said Monday that his temporary moratorium on no-knock warrants still allows the police chief to allow unannounced raids to be done in certain dangerous scenarios, such as hostage situations.

While the moratorium, which was enacted Friday, is in place, Frey and police leaders will work with national experts to review and suggest revisions to the department’s policy. 

Frey indicated Monday he is inclined to go farther in restricting no-knock warrants, such as by requiring officers to wait a certain amount of time before entering a home. Often departments require officers to wait 30 seconds.

“We can go farther and I think we have to,” Frey said.

Frey acknowledged his November 2020 reform to no-knock warrants was not a ban on them, contrary to some of his re-election campaign rhetoric. He said official channels, websites, policy materials and interviews were accurate, but sometimes his and his campaign’s language “became more casual” and didn’t reflect the “necessary precision or nuance” of the policy change.

“I own that,” Frey said.

Frey spoke to the Minneapolis City Council Policy & Government Oversight Committee about the warrant that allowed a SWAT team to break into a Minneapolis apartment last week and led to the fatal shooting of a 22-year-old Black man who had been sleeping on a couch. 

Amir Locke was shot three times by a Minneapolis police officer, igniting tensions again in a city still reeling from the 2020 police killing of George Floyd, which sparked international outrage. Three of the officers involved in Floyd’s killing are currently standing trial in federal court.

University of St. Thomas Law School associate professor Rachel Moran told the council Minneapolis has never had, and still doesn’t have, a ban on no-knock warrants.

No-knock warrants allow police to surprise people in their homes by entering outside of daylight hours without first announcing their presence.

Minneapolis was among many cities to evaluate their policies after Breonna Taylor was fatally shot in her Louisville, Kentucky, apartment in March 2020. 

In November 2020, Frey announced a new policy governing the warrants that was sometimes referred to as a ban on no-knocks.

Under the policy change, MPD officers were allowed to enter a domicile without knocking, but had to announce their presence before crossing the threshold of the home. Whether they announced their presence before crossing in the Locke case is a “distinction without a difference,” Moran said, since they weren’t required to wait any specified amount of time before entering.

Even then, if officers believed announcing their presence would create imminent danger, they could skip it.

Last year, the Legislature also passed a law that requires officers to explain to a judge why they need a no-knock warrant.  

In 2016, Minneapolis recorded 121 no-knock warrants, which steadily rose to 194 in 2019 before dropping to 78 last year. The Star Tribune reported MPD requested 13 last month.

The Locke family’s attorney, Ben Crump, told the council three states and 12 cities have completely banned no-knock warrants.

St. Paul hasn’t executed one since 2016, and had a homicide clearance rate of 91% in 2020, compared to Minneapolis’s 37%. And neither city has had a cop killed by violence in 17 years, according to data compiled by the Community Justice Project at St. Thomas.

No-knock warrants started during the Nixon administration’s War on Drugs, and were so dangerous and controversial they were almost repealed four years later, Moran said. The New York Times found at least 94 people were killed — 13 of them police officers — as a result of no-knock warrants between 2010 and 2016.

“They are dangerous,” Moran said.

Crump said a Kentucky newspaper found the majority of no-knock warrants issued in Louisville were for Black suspects.

Crump’s co-counsel, Antonio Romanucci, said police did about 1,500 no-knock warrants nationwide annually in the 1980s, 40,000 by 2000 and about 70,000 by 2020, according to one study.

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

No-knock warrants have historically been used for drug raids and mostly affect Black, marginalized communities, he said.

When these unannounced raids go wrong, cities can be held liable — even though the officers are immune from liability —  and be sued for policies or practices that lead to deaths, as was done by the Floyd family. The family, represented by Crump, settled with Minneapolis for $27 million.

Cities can reduce their risk by eliminating or severely restricting no-knock warrants, Romanucci said. Cities also need to make sure the information they release after police shootings is factual, with no misrepresentations, he said.

Their co-counsel, Jeff Storms, warned that if the city doesn’t change its policing, it could lose control of the police force if it’s put in federal receivership.

“Half measures have really gotten cities nowhere,” he said. “I would implore this council and the MPD and the city leadership that it does not want its legacy to be that of a city that cannot run itself. And this will require decisive, quick action not to just put a Band-Aid over the no-knock warrant problem.”


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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs.