The Biden administration is considering expanding a policy that limits the use of “no-knock” warrants by certain federal agents.
A “no-knock warrant,” as its name implies, is an order from a judge that allows law enforcement officials with a search warrant to enter a home without announcing their presence first. It's an exemption to usual practice; in most cases, the law requires that officers must knock and announce themselves before entering a private home to execute a warrant.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that President Joe Biden was looking at whether to further limit federal agents' use of the tactic after a local SWAT team in Minneapolis fatally shot Amir Locke, a 22-year-old Black man.
The Justice Department announced in September that it was curtailing the use of “no-knock” warrants by its federal agents. Psaki said Biden is now weighing an expansion to other federal agencies. Agents and officers in Homeland Security, for example, also use the tactic.
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The updated Justice Department policy is more limiting than what is permitted by law, requiring approval from both federal prosecutors and a supervisory law enforcement agent to obtain a no-knock warrant.
Under the updated policy, Justice Department agents — including those in the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Marshals Service and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — are limited to using a no-knock warrant only in situations when an agent “has reasonable grounds to believe that knocking and announcing the agent’s presence would create an imminent threat of physical violence to the agent and/or another person.”
There are limited exceptions to that rule, but agents seeking a warrant in those circumstances need approval from the agency’s director and the U.S. attorney or an assistant attorney general before seeking the warrant from a judge.
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No-knock warrants are mostly used in local policing, where federal executive orders would not apply. The tactic is highly dangerous for residents, who don’t know who is coming through the door.
Breonna Taylor was killed by police during a “no-knock” raid on her home in Louisville, and the warrants have been disproportionately used against Black and brown people.
They can also be dangerous for law enforcement officers.
In the latest example, police bodycam video shows an officer kicking the couch where Locke’s family said the 22-year-old was sleeping. On the video, Locke is seen wrapped in a blanket, beginning to move, with a pistol in his hand just before an officer fires his weapon.
Locke’s parents, Andre Locke and Karen Wells, say their son was “executed” after he was startled from a deep sleep and reached for a legal firearm to protect himself. The family and activists have called for the firing of the interim police chief.
Psaki said the administration mourned “the tragic death of Amir Locke," and said the White House had been talking with civil rights groups as well as law enforcement agencies about the need to reform the policies.
“There's a lot of agreement on that, to keep both citizens and law enforcement officers safe," she said.