When Minnesota lawmakers passed new regulations for no-knock search warrants last year, they said police departments had to report information to the state on how they use the controversial tactic.
While individual police agencies may have kept records on no-knock warrants, there hadn’t been any comprehensive data, meaning legislators and others had a hard time gauging how often no-knock warrants are used across the state. As of Sept. 1, 2021, police must report to state officials the number of no-knock warrants they have asked for, the number that were issued by a court, and the number of no-knock warrants they carried out. The information must be reported to the state within three months of the date the warrant was issued.
Police also have to send data on the number of injuries or fatalities tied to the raid and any other information requested by state officials.
On Tuesday, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension released initial data reported to the state over the first few months of the law, from September of 2021 — when the new regulations went into effect — to February 2. Because agencies have three months to report no-knock warrants, the data may be missing warrants that were issued after November 7.
During that period, police agencies in Minnesota reported being issued a total of 71 no-knock warrants. Of those, 49 were actually executed as no-knock warrants. In the other cases, the warrants were not acted on or were carried out as “knock and announce” warrants, where officers must knock, announce their presence and wait a reasonable amount of time before entering.
The Department of Public Safety, which oversees the BCA, has to write a report on the data to the Legislature each year, but since a full year of data hasn’t been collected, the agency hasn’t written such a report.
Still, here are some things we learned from the state’s new data on no-knock search warrants, which have faced scrutiny and criticism after Minneapolis police killed Amir Locke in a no-knock raid last week.
No-knock search warrants were more common in the metro, but happen in Greater Minnesota, too.
The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office reported to state officials 11 no-knock warrants that were carried out, which was the most among the limited and incomplete data. The next highest were Minneapolis and St. Cloud police, who reported eight executed no-knock warrants. The majority of the executed no-knock search warrants in the state data were reported by agencies inside the Twin Cities metro area, though other departments besides St. Cloud used the tactic, too.
The Isanti County Sheriff’s Office reported four no-knock warrants served, and the Cass and Douglas county sheriffs reported two no-knock warrants each.
Many of the raids were tied to drug and violent crime enforcement teams, which can be composed of several agencies. For instance, four of the no-knock raids reported by St. Cloud police were tied to the Central Minnesota Violent Offender Task Force, which includes officers from police departments in Sartell, St. Cloud, as well as Benton, Morrison, Sherburne, Stearns and Todd counties.
All four executed no-knock warrants reported by the Isanti sheriff were connected to the East Central Drug Task Force. And all of the 11 no-knock search warrants the Hennepin County sheriff’s office reported that were carried out were tied to the Hennepin County Violent Offender Task Force.
No-knock search warrants have drawn criticism because they can create dangerous and chaotic situations in which people inside a home being raided might be confused or not have time to safely react to officers. But some police say they’re crucial to either preserving evidence of serious crimes or protecting officers from people who may be hostile to police.
William Blair Anderson, chief of St. Cloud police, spoke in opposition last year to a DFL-supported bill that would have placed more restrictions on no-knock warrants. At the time, he said limiting no-knock warrants would “create an exponentially higher level of danger in an inherently dangerous profession.”
“We are going to start seeing many, many great law enforcement professionals walking away, and who could blame them,” Anderson said. “We are simply unnecessarily putting them in harm’s way. This is one of the most effective tools that we use, and I can not overstate that we do treat this with the proper reverence that it deserves.”
Further complicating the data is that not every no-knock warrant listed by the state may have been carried out by that agency. St. Paul police say they haven’t executed a no-knock search warrant since 2016. But the agency reported one to the state last October. Department spokesman Steve Linders said they asked the Ramsey County SWAT Team to carry out the search warrant in North St. Paul on their behalf, and said when that happens, St. Paul police defer to the tactics and policies of the agency serving the warrant. (Minneapolis police were carrying out a search tied to a St. Paul homicide when an officer fatally shot Locke, who was not a target of the investigation. Minneapolis Police Chief Amelia Huffman told reporters the city obtained a no-knock and a knock and announce warrant.)
The search warrant in North St. Paul was tied to a homicide in St. Paul, and Linders said officers arrested a homicide suspect and recovered a handgun.
Black people are the subjects of the majority of no-knock warrants reported to the Department of Public Safety so far.
Agencies reported race data for 94 people who were the subjects of carried-out no-knock warrants. Of them, 66 were reported as Black, 24 were white, three were American Indian and one was of unknown race or ethnicity. Data on the race of people who were subjects of warrants were not available for five of the 49 executed no-knock warrants.
While the data are incomplete, they do suggest a starkly disproportionate number of no-knock raids are carried out on Black people, who make up 7 percent of Minnesota’s population but 70 percent of the people who were the subjects of no-knock warrants in the data.
Most no-knock raids reported to the state were tied to cases involving weapons and drugs.
No-knock warrants for drug offenses are controversial. Last year, legislators in both the DFL-led House and the Republican-led Senate voted to ban police from executing no-knock warrants in cases related only to drugs meant for personal use. Advocates for such a policy say using a no-knock warrant for small drug crimes unnecessarily puts lives at risk.
Drugs are one of the most common primary offenses cited in no-knock data, though the data do not indicate whether the warrants were related to small quantities of drugs or large ones. Of no-knock warrants reported to DPS, 14 were primarily related to drugs/narcotics. Only weapon law violations surpassed drug and narcotic related no-knock warrants.
No-knock warrants were rarely denied by judges.
State law requires police to report how many no-knock search warrants were issued to them and carried out, but also how many they asked for but were denied. The only department to report having a warrant application denied was Minneapolis police, for a warrant tied to a mid-December incident. The warrant request was listed in state data as being related to a violation of weapons law.
Few injuries were reported from no-knock warrants.
In the limited and incomplete data, police and sheriff’s departments reported few injuries tied to no-knock warrant searches.
The Hennepin County Sheriff reported an injury to an adult from a Jan. 24 no-knock raid in Minneapolis tied to the county’s violent offender task force. That injured person was not listed as a subject of the warrant. Brooklyn Park police reported to the state an injury in a no-knock raid in Minneapolis on Feb. 1.
And lastly, the state listed an injury tied to an Austin police “knock and announce” raid in late December, an apparent reference to when an officer shot and killed 38-year-old Kokou Christopher Fiafonou. In that case, police say Fiafonou had threatened to hurt other people and officers tried unsuccessfully to detain him with pepper spray, foam bullets and Tasers.
After a long negotiation while Fiafonou was in an apartment complex, police say they shot the man after he left the building and confronted officers with a knife. Fiafonou’s family has said police harassed him, who the family described as having a mental health crisis. Austin police don’t have body cameras, though the incident was partially captured on squad-car video.
Law enforcement agencies reported finding the items they were searching for in most of the carried-out no-knock warrants reported to the state.
When officers apply for warrants, they are required to identify items or item categories they are seeking in their search, DPS spokesperson Jill Oliveira said in an email.
In all but three of the 49 executed no-knock warrants, law enforcement reported they had reported “initial criminal evidence located,” or that they found the items they had indicated they were looking for in the warrant application.