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Minneapolis’ policy on ‘no-knock’ search warrants — before and after the killing of Amir Locke — explained

As both the Minneapolis City Council and the Minnesota Legislature scrutinize how and when ‘no-knock’ warrants are used, a look at what we know about the policies governing the search warrants, before and after the killing. 

Residents of Bolero Flats Apartments, where Amir Locke was shot and killed by Minneapolis police’s SWAT team, watch a car caravan demonstration near the building on February 4.
Residents of Bolero Flats Apartments, where Amir Locke was shot and killed by Minneapolis police’s SWAT team, watch a car caravan demonstration near the building on February 4.
REUTERS/Tim Evans

After the police killing of Amir Locke last week, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey announced what he called a moratorium on no-knock search warrants. The raid during which an officer fatally shot Locke has drawn backlash against the city’s use of no-knock warrants and scrutiny of Frey’s false claim to have banned or limited them to extreme circumstances like a hostage situation.

During the raid, Minneapolis officers seeking evidence tied to a St. Paul homicide opened the door to the apartment where Locke was staying, announcing their presence as they rushed across the threshold of the home. Police bodycam video shows an officer kicking the couch where Locke appears to be sleeping, wrapped in a blanket. On the video, the 22-year old appears to be waking up and holding a gun, and he is shot just as he starts to move, approximately 8 seconds after police enter the apartment. Locke was not a target of the investigation and his parents have said he was a legal gun owner. Police arrested a 17-year-old in connection to the St. Paul murder case on Monday.

Body camera footage
Screen shot/City of Minneapolis
Body camera footage from a Minneapolis police officer taken during the serving of a no-knock warrant on February 3.
Some police say no-knock warrants can help them secure criminal evidence before it’s destroyed, or can help them safely search a building without alerting someone who might be hostile to police. But the tactic has drawn criticism because they can cause dangerous and chaotic situations where people inside are unsure of what’s happening as police charge in the door.

Here’s what we know about the city’s policies on no-knock search warrants before last week, and what has happened since. 

What was Minneapolis policy on no-knock search warrants at the time of the Locke killing?

In November of 2020, the Minneapolis Police Department announced its first ever policy governing the use of no-knock search warrants, which are granted by judges. 

Under the policy, officers have three options for searching a residence. The first is what’s known as a “knock and announce” warrant. For that type of search, officers “generally” can’t immediately force their way into a building looking for evidence of a crime, the policy says. Instead, they have to knock and announce their presence and wait a reasonable amount of time before entering someone’s home. Rachel Moran, professor at the University of St. Thomas Law School, told the Minneapolis City Council on Monday that wait time is typically about 30 seconds.

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However, police can also seek a no-knock warrant from a judge under department regulations, which refer to them as “unannounced” entry search warrants.

For most of those no-knock searches, police must announce themselves before entering a home — although not before opening a door or busting it down. Officers, who also have to announce themselves periodically once inside a residence, used this style of entry in the raid last week where an officer fatally shot Locke. “An unannounced warrant means we breach first, then announce,” said Garrett Parten, a spokesman for the department, in an interview last year.

Lastly, under the search warrant regulations, if police decide announcing themselves would create an imminent threat of physical harm to someone, officers can enter without any type of knock or announcement. The city says these are necessary only in limited circumstances, like a hostage situation.

So did Minneapolis ban no-knock search warrants last year or not?

The city did not ban no-knock search warrants last year. It’s accurate to say Minneapolis enacted a new requirement that officers announce themselves prior to entering a residence to execute a no-knock search warrant. But an entry in which police announce themselves after opening a door without knocking is still considered to be a no-knock warrant by MPD. And the city policy still also allows officers to enter a home without announcing themselves in some circumstances.

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During his 2021 re-election bid, Frey and his supporters campaigned on having banned no-knock search warrants, but that is not true, and Frey told the council Monday that “language became more casual, including my own, which did not reflect the necessary precision or nuance, and I own that.”

What did the policy actually change?

Minneapolis police leaders say the regulations cemented what they considered to be existing best practice — police announcing themselves after opening a door for a no-knock raid — into official policy. Frey has said not all officers previously followed those practices, and police are now required to adhere to them. If officers don’t follow the policy, they can also potentially be disciplined.

Did MPD follow its policy in the raid in which police fatally shot Locke?

Some have questioned if officers announced themselves before entering the apartment where Locke was sleeping. But MPD seemed to roughly follow the requirement for a no-knock search warrant, in which officers must announce themselves before entering but not before opening a door to the residence they’re searching.

What did Frey announce about no-knock warrants last week?

On Friday, Frey announced what he described as a moratorium on police securing and carrying out no-knock search warrants after the Locke killing. The only way officers can execute a search warrant under the rules is through the “knock and announce” option.

But during a Minneapolis City Council Policy & Government Oversight Committee (POGO) meeting Monday, Frey said there are, in fact, exceptions to that policy in which officers can carry out a no-knock warrant. “An outright ban is not even an outright ban,” said Frey.

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“There may be extremely dangerous circumstances where an officer can enter without an announcement,” Frey said. He listed hostage situations and “extreme domestic violence” as exceptions in which an officer may breach an entry without an announcement. 

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey
MinnPost photo by Jessica Lee
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey
“I’m sure there are other instances as well,” Frey added. 

Frey said during the Monday meeting that the moratorium will remain in place until a new no-knock policy is established. He said that there is no exact timeline for creating the policy because of complexities like the inclusion of certain exceptions. 

Frey said he doesn’t want to rush a policy and wants to consult with experts — including activist DeRay Mckesson, who Frey said he has tapped for input — and community members. Frey also said he’d be open to collaborating with the Minneapolis council to come up with a policy. 

What has the state done to address no-knock search warrants?

State lawmakers enacted new requirements last year on police using no-knock search warrants. They banned cops from using the tactic in cases tied to drugs meant for personal use. They said no-knock raids must be approved by at least two officers in management at a police agency. Legislators set new guidelines for what information officers must include in an application to a judge for a no-knock warrant, such as why a “knock and announce” entry can’t be used or whether the warrant can be carried out in daylight hours.

And lastly, the law requires police departments to report information to the state on no-knock warrants they applied for and executed, as well as the number of injuries or fatalities tied to a raid. There is no central database for this information and police departments vary widely in how they use and track the use of no-knock warrants.

Is the Legislature considering further action?

Gov. Tim Walz, as well as Democratic and Republican state lawmakers — including two GOP  candidates for governor in the Minnesota Senate — have called for a new examination and potential restrictions on no-knock warrants. Other Republican candidates for governor not in the Legislature have also called for a new look at the practice.

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Legislators in the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus  called initially for a total ban on no-knock search warrants.

State Rep. Esther Agbaje
State Rep. Esther Agbaje
“We will be pushing for a state-wide prohibition of no-knock warrants and further checks on unsafe police practices,” said Rep. Esther Agbaje, a Minneapolis DFLer who lives in the downtown building where Locke was killed. “Everyone deserves to be safe in their own home.”

A plan announced by House DFLers on Tuesday, however, would narrowly restrict no-knock warrants to “extreme circumstances where there is evidence that a civilian’s life would otherwise be put in danger,” a press release says.

Sen. Warren Limmer, a Republican from Maple Grove who chairs the Senate’s Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee, told reporters Monday he wanted more information on the raid and the circumstances leading up to it before forming an opinion on if any changes should be made to state law around no-knock search warrants. 

Limmer said he was wary of a complete ban on no-knock warrants, however, saying “police activity is very challenging, especially when they’re to arrest a dangerous criminal.”

“There are times when you have to use extreme measures to make their arrest,” he said.

Peter Callaghan contributed to this story.