Judges and magistrates are expected to review requests for no-knock warrants — an intrusive and dangerous tactic used by police — to ensure that citizens are protected from unreasonable searches, as provided in the Fourth Amendment.
Judges generally rely on the word of police officers and rarely question the merits of the requests, offering little resistance when they seek authorization for no-knocks, a Washington Post investigation found. The searches, which were meant to be used sparingly, have become commonplace for drug squads and SWAT teams.
Police carry out tens of thousands of no-knock raids every year nationwide, mostly in drug-related searches. Few agencies monitor their use, making the exact number unknown. None of the 50 state court systems or the District of Columbia reported tracking the use of no-knock warrants. No federal or state government agencies keep tabs on the number of people killed or wounded in the raids.
“The whole system has devolved into a perfunctory bureaucracy that doesn’t take any care or due diligence for how it’s done,” said Prof. Peter Kraska, of Eastern Kentucky University, who has studied no-knock raids for more than three decades. “That wouldn’t be as big of a deal, except that we’re talking about a really extreme policing approach — breaking into people’s homes with a surprise entry with the possibility of finding evidence.”
The raids became a flash point in 2020 when Louisville police killed 26-year-old Breonna Taylor inside her apartment as part of a drug investigation involving an ex-boyfriend who didn’t live there. An officer obtained no-knock warrants for Taylor’s home and four other residences.
Police said they knocked and announced themselves at Taylor’s home, a disputed claim. In a no-knock raid in February, Minneapolis police shot and killed 22-year-old Amir Locke. Body-camera footage shows Locke, not the target of an investigation, wrapped in a blanket on a couch with a gun in his hand when police shot him.
Of the 22 people fatally shot during no-knock raids since 2015, 13 were Black or Hispanic. Experts say high-risk searches disproportionately target Black and Hispanic homes.
In the vast majority of the cases, police said they were searching for illegal drugs and expected the subjects to be armed.