An ever-growing topic facing police and other law enforcement administrators is the use of no-knock search warrants and whether using these warrants are worth using if they put their agencies at a higher risk for use of force claims.
What Are No-Knock Warrants?
A no-knock search warrant is defined as “of, relating to, or being entry by [law enforcement] into private premises without knocking and without Identifying themselves.” This tactic is definitely appropriate in limited situations, such as when hostages or fugitives are involved, or where the suspect poses an immediate threat to community safety. More often in today’s law enforcement activity, the no-knock warrant tactic is being used in less volatile situations, such as serving routine search warrants for illegal drugs.
Many critics claim that no-knock warrants are often launched on tips from notoriously unreliable confidential informants. Some even point to the rise in ‘wrong door’ raids seeming to continually pop up in news reports and claim these are the result of what they term as ‘rubber-stamp judges,’ dicey informants, and aggressive policing. Further, these critics point to a disturbingly long list of seemingly completely innocent people who’ve been killed in wrong door raids.
Excessive Use of Force Claims Put Agencies on the Defensive
Although police administrators are concerned about the safety of the officers and public, they must also concern themselves with the liability issues surrounding no-knock search warrants. The most serious area of liability comes into play with the loss of life during the execution of a search warrant. In such instances, the excessive use of force claims will undoubtedly become an issue that requires the agency to defend their enforcement action.
The Fourth Amendment governs how law enforcement officers should conduct searches, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation sets the legal standard. The Supreme Court case Graham v. Connor set this standard. The amount of force used to seize a suspect must be “objectively reasonable.” When a plaintiff files a civil suit alleging excessive force, the court examines the totality of the facts and circumstances faced by the officer to decide whether the force used to affect a seizure was excessive.
It is considering that totality of facts and circumstances which will inevitably bring the agency’s policies and procedures into question. These questions will bring additional questions regarding the continued review of the policies and procedures, the training received by officers regarding those policies and procedures, and that agency’s enforcement of their policies and procedures.
We will continue having debates and discussions regarding the benefits and liabilities surrounding no-knock warrants, but it is clear that administrators should continue to regularly evaluate the use of, and their policies and procedures regarding, no-knock search warrants in their communities.
Need a Use of Force Expert?
If you’re an attorney representing an agency against use of force claims or similar allegations and you need a use of force expert, contact OSS Law Enforcement Advisors today.