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Minnesota no-knock searches decline, disparities remain following Locke killing

Black Minnesotans are subjects in the vast majority of the raids, at a level that is far disproportionate compared to state demographics.

Body camera footage from a Minneapolis police officer taken during the serving of a no-knock warrant Thursday morning.
Body camera footage from a Minneapolis police officer taken during the serving of a no-knock warrant.
Screen shot/City of Minneapolis

The use of no-knock searches by police appears to have declined sharply across Minnesota after a Minneapolis officer fatally shot 22-year-old Amir Locke during a raid in February, though stark racial disparities remain in who law enforcement targets.

New state data says police and sheriffs carried out an average of 14 no-knock entries each month between September and the end of January. But that dipped significantly between February — when Locke was killed — and the end of April. 

Law enforcement across the state reported carrying out just eight total no-knock raids in nearly three months of data following Locke’s killing on Feb. 2, yet four of the nine people targeted in the raids were Black. Locke was also Black.

No knock warrants carried out in Minnesota by month, Sept. 2021-April 2022
Note: Of 12 no-knock raids reported to have been carried out in February, 10 were carried out on or before Feb. 2, the day Locke was killed. Because law enforcement agencies have three months to report, data are only complete through April.
Source: Minnesota Secretary of State

Much of the decline happened after Mayor Jacob Frey restricted officers from using the tactic after the Bolero Flats apartment building raid, in which Locke was killed by a Minneapolis officer despite not being the target of the warrant. The city requested more than a third of the total no-knock search warrants carried out statewide in the five months before Locke was killed. 

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Still, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office — which accounts for the second-highest number of no-knock search warrants requested — also carried out fewer of the controversial raids after Locke was killed. A spokesman for the office says officials suspended use of the practice earlier this year and are re-evaluating their search warrant policy. Unlike in Minneapolis, where Frey held a news conference to announce the change, the sheriff’s office suspended no-knock warrants quietly.

Bill Hutton, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association, said he suspected there might be a combination of factors driving the decline in no-knock searches, such as more sensitivity to controversy over the tactic, but also new policies restricting them in metro-area departments.

“The huge majority of those were coming from more urbanized settings,” Hutton said.

Dropping no-knock searches

Statewide data comes from a 2021 state law requiring police to report information about no-knock search warrants to state officials. Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension released a small amount of preliminary data available in early February, after Locke was killed. But the BCA now has much more information.

In total, law enforcement has reported carrying out 94 no-knock search warrants between Sept. 1 and July 12. But since police have three months to hand over information about their raids, data released by DPS in early August was only required by state law to be complete roughly through April.

Still, the data says police reported carrying out 70 no-knock warrants in the five months prior to the Feb. 2 raid at the Bolero Flats, and another 10 searches executed in the first two days of February.

From Feb. 3 — the day after Locke was killed — until the end of April, police across the state reported carrying out just eight no-knock search warrants. Half were by the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, the Isanti County Sheriff’s Office had one and the St. Louis Park and Brooklyn Park police departments each had one. Nine people were targeted in those raids: Four of them were Black; two were white; two were Asian; and one was unknown/not reported. 

Of the 80 no-knock warrants carried out through the day of the Bolero Flats search, 25 were requested by Minneapolis Police, according to the data. But Minneapolis has not reported asking for any no-knock search warrants since the end of January.

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Hennepin County, meanwhile, reported carrying out 18 no-knock search warrants between September and Feb. 2, the day of the raid in which Locke was killed. 

St. Cloud police carried out the third-highest number of no-knock search warrants, according to the state data. 

Andy Skoogman, a spokesman for the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, said in an email that the department suspended use of no-knock warrants “earlier this year” and is re-evaluating its policies. That is true for violent offender and drug task forces the county is involved in as well, Skoogman said. The most recent no-knock operation Hennepin County reported carrying out was on May 20 in Edina.

There are potential flaws in the state’s data. 

For instance, Isanti County has reported carrying out four no-knock search warrants. But Sheriff Chris Caulk said they were not what people typically think of as an unannounced entry into someone’s home. The last time the department entered someone’s home on a no-knock search warrant was December of 2019, he said. 

There are instances in which police say they’ve had to obtain no-knock search warrants for things that don’t involve entering someone’s home without an announcement — like placing a vehicle tracker on someone’s car. Some departments designated those cases in the Minnesota data, which are marked as “non-entry into a premises.” MinnPost did not count those as police carrying out a no-knock entry into someone’s home. But apparently some agencies may have reported them as no-knock search warrants without noting the circumstances.

No-knocks by race

Data show Black Minnesotans are disproportionately subjects of no-knock operations compared to white Minnesotans.

Of 178 people listed as subjects of carried-out no-knock warrants since September, 114 — 64% — were Black, whereas Black people make up 7% of the state’s population. About 24% of the no-knock subjects were white; 5% were Native American and less than 2% were Asian. The race or ethnicity of 10 subjects was not reported.

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While fewer raids were carried out in the period following Locke’s killing, racial disparities remained, as four of the nine people targeted in the eight raids in the three months following were Black.

Subjects of carried-out no-knock raids ranged in age between 14 and 82.

No-knocks in Minneapolis not by Minneapolis police

Slightly more than half of the 94 total no-knock searches reported since September were carried out in Minneapolis, a city that makes up about 7% of the state’s population. A slim majority of Minneapolis no-knocks were on warrants requested by the city’s police — but a large share were also requested by Hennepin County deputies. All of the Hennepin County raids in Minneapolis were connected to a drug or violent offender task force, which typically involve multiple police agencies. (About 46% of total no-knock searches reported to have been executed across the state were tied to a task force.)

State data shows five no-knock search warrants carried out in Minneapolis on Feb. 2, the day Locke was killed, and four the day before. Only one of those nine was requested by Minneapolis police. The rest were requested by St. Paul police — which asked a judge for a no-knock search warrant in the Bolero Flats raid at the urging of Minneapolis police — as well as by Hennepin County, Brooklyn Park and Richfield law enforcement.

Most no-knocks are in the metro

The seven-county Twin Cities metro area makes up roughly 55% of the state’s population. But more than 80% of the 94 no-knock search warrants reported to the state were carried out in the metro.

More than 70% of the no-knock operations in Greater Minnesota were carried out by St. Cloud police. There were zero no-knock search warrants carried out in Rochester or Duluth, which are the two largest cities in Greater Minnesota.

Few no-knock warrants denied

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State data includes instances in which officers were issued a no-knock search warrant, but did not carry out such a search. Some reported a “knock and announce” entry into a premise, and others reported not entering a premise at all, and instead doing things like placing a tracker on a vehicle or having a dog sniff for evidence.

Rarely, however, do judges appear to deny no-knock warrant requests. Out of 206 “warrant requests” reported to the state, police said only five were not issued. Minneapolis, Hennepin County and New Hope officers each reported one warrant requested but not issued. Brooklyn Park police reported two.

While no-knocks carried out before the killing of Locke were most-often due to weapon law violations (31%), just two in the period since Locke’s killing listed weapons as a primary reason for obtaining a warrant. Other common reasons for no-knock warrants are for drug violations and assault.