Citing Breonna Taylor death, Aurora lawmaker introduces ban on no-knock police warrants

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AURORA | A panel of Aurora city lawmakers have given an initial green light to a proposal that would bar local police officers from searching residents’ homes without announcing themselves first.

Despite concerns from Aurora police brass, members of the city council’s public safety policy committee on Thursday unanimously approved a proposed city ordinance that would ban no-knock search warrants in the city.

The measure was drafted at the behest of city councilperson Angela Lawson, who cited the death of Breonna Taylor in March as her reason for bringing the ordinance forward. Taylor was shot and killed in her Louisville, Kentucky apartment after a trio of plain clothes police personnel barged into her home as part of an investigation targeting a pair of drug dealers.

Despite a growing international outcry, none of the officers involved in raiding Taylor’s home have been charged with a crime.

“This particular tool I think is not something that we really need to have based on some of the statistics that I’ve received,” Lawson said of the debated warrants Thursday.

Aurora police have executed a total of 10 no-knock search warrants since 2018, according to Lawson. Details on those warrants were not immediately available, though Lawson indicated further information on each instance may be presented to council members at an upcoming study session.

But only five of those orders — each of which are typically crafted by local police and district attorney’s before being presented to a judge — involved officers entering residents’ homes without ever saying a command. The other five local warrants were so-called “knock and announce” orders, which involve officers knocking on someone’s door and announcing their presence before entering a home.

Lawson’s proposal would continue to permit “knock and announce” warrants in the city.

“What this ordinance is doing is not taking away the ‘knock and announce,’” she said.

Deputy City Attorney Nancy Rodgers, who helped Lawson craft the ordinance, said Aurora police would be able to continue helping other agencies execute warrants that cross jurisdictional boundaries, though Aurora personnel would always have to announce themselves, even if an outside agency asks for no-knock aid.

“The intent of this ordinance is that if Aurora PD got presented with a no-knock warrant and was asked to help, then Aurora PD would have to say, ‘We’ve got to come up with knock and announce operation for this warrant if you want Aurora’s help on it,’” she said. “So they couldn’t effectuate that warrant as a no-knock warrant.”

Police Chief Vanessa Wilson lamented Lawson’s proposal, saying that stripping no-knock orders from cops’ tool belts could put officers’ lives at risk.

“For us to take that ability away to use a no-knock warrant when it’s appropriate is a huge officer safety issue,” she said. “And I just need everyone to hear that I’m very concerned about this.”

Across the country, the number of no-knock warrants served has swelled in recent decades. SWAT teams served approximately 1,500 such orders annually in the early 1980s, the Associated Press reported in June. That number had ballooned to about 45,000 in 2010, according to Eastern Kentucky University professor Peter Kraska, an expert in police militarization.

He said police are adept at working around restrictions and tailoring paperwork to suit the standards of judges issuing search warrants.

“Banning no-knock warrants, if any jurisdiction can pull that off, is an important step,” Kraska told the AP. “At the end of the day, banning them probably won’t accomplish much in the real world. But getting them off the books on one level is important.”

The full city council will now discuss Lawson’s proposal at an upcoming study session.