Police Union Sues Kentucky City's Mayor, Claiming New No-Knock Warrant Ban Violates Its Bargaining Agreement

from the working-tirelessly-to-be-as-wrong-as-possible dept

The city of Lexington, Kentucky recently passed a ban on no-knock raids by the local police department. A long string of no-knock raids that have ended tragically likely contributed to this, but a recent high-profile raid in which a 26-year-old black ER technician was shot and killed by Louisville, Kentucky police officers probably hit closest to home.

In that raid, officers did not announce their presence. Bursting into the house, they were met by gunfire from one of the house’s residents who thought he was being robbed. (He had called 911 prior to arming himself.) While the officers did knock, they apparently did not declare they were police officers before breaking down the door. The officers returned fire, killing Breonna Taylor. The entire thing was predicated on an drug investigation that appeared to be at least partially fabricated.

Lexington has its own experience with botched drug raids. A no-knock raid in 2015 terrorized the residents of the wrong house, most of whom thought they were being robbed. It wasn’t until the residents were surrounded by officers pointing guns that the officers realized they had the wrong address. The push to end no-knock raids began then, prompting opposition from law enforcement.

Lexington police insist that no-knock warrants — that allow police to enter a residence without knocking or announcing — are used sparingly and are thoroughly vetted before they are carried out. Police Chief Lawrence Weathers said in a June presentation before the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council that no-knock warrants had been used four times in the last five years.

That’s according to the police department, which did not release any documents that might have confirmed the chief’s claims about the limited use of these raids. Following several months of anti-police violence protests — along with more recent tragedies linked to no-knock raids, the city passed a ban on this form of warrant service. The new city ordinance mandates that police knock, announce their presence, and wait a “reasonable” amount of time before forcing entry.

Now the city and the mayor are being sued by the local police union.

The Fraternal Order of Police has filed a lawsuit against the mayor and the city over the recently passed no-knock warrant ban.

It was last Thursday when the city council approved the ban in a 10 to 5 vote. The lawsuit claims that the city violated its collective bargaining agreement with the FOP.

So, what is the legal footing the FOP hopes will overturn this ban? It’s a very creative reading of the city’s agreement with the police union. According to bylaws the city and PD agreed to, the PD is obliged to keep officers as safe as possible. After spending some time bitching about how city reps made no effort to “negotiate” with the union, it finally gets around to laying down its ridiculous argument [PDF]. Here it is:

Article 14, Section I of the Officer/Sergeant CBA [Collective Bargaining Agreement] stipulates, “The Department will take precautions to safeguard the health and safety of Members during their hours of work and maintain standards of safety and sanitation.”

[…]

The No-Knock Ordinance seriously endangers the health and safety of LPD Officers.

The No-Knock Ordinance prohibits LPD officers from seeking a lawful no-knock warrant, even when they objectively establish probable cause that requiring law enforcement to knock and announce their presence would increase the danger to the officers involved in executing the warrant.

The No-Knock Ordinance creates an extrajudicial “knock and announce” policy for all arrest and search warrants, devoid of any “precautions to safeguard the health and safety of [LPD Officers].”

It’s not much of an argument. First, let’s look at the police chief’s statement. If the PD is only using these warrants about once a year, the loss of this one opportunity to surprise occupants isn’t going to significantly increase the risk to officers.

If the chief was being dishonest about the frequency of no-knock warrant deployment, there’s literally no evidence available anywhere that shows no-knock warrants are safer (for occupants, officers, or the general public) than regular knock-and-announce warrants.

No studies have examined the impact of banning no-knock warrants on key outcomes such as reducing fatalities and injuries of officers and members of the public. But evaluations of the impact of police raids, which typically involve no-knock warrants, on crime include two rigorous experiments. One study assessed the impact of randomly assigning city blocks in Kansas City, MO, to receive forcible police raids involving dramatic, highly visible armed entry while other blocks were subject to routine policing practices. Researchers found no statistically significant impacts on violent crime. Another study assessed the impact of randomized deployment of police paramilitary units to raid known Buffalo, NY, drug houses over a two-week period in 2012. Evaluators detected slight increases in calls for service and drug arrests following the raids, but no significant impacts on serious violent or property crimes.

A third evaluation employed a less rigorous methodology, examining 9,000 law enforcement agencies along with all of those in Maryland to compare outcomes in crime and officer assaults between agencies that established or eliminated a SWAT team during a period of time in the 2000s. The study found no statistically significant impact of SWAT deployment on either crime or officer assaults.

That comes from the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ), whose membership includes several current and former police officials. It is not a font of anti-police activism. And it recommends ending the use of no-knock warrants and the use of plainclothes officers and/or the use of military uniforms during warrant service… to increase officer safety.

Unless they are engaged in covert operations, officers should be in standard dress uniform when executing warrants, particularly at premises that are known to be occupied, in order to be clearly identifiable as law enforcement and remove the impression that the execution of search warrants is a burglary (in the case of plainclothes officers) or military exercise (in the case of officers wearing battle uniforms). This practice minimizes the potential for officer harm from occupants using deadly force against assumed intruders. When a threat assessment determines that it is appropriate for a SWAT team to execute the warrant, those suitably attired and equipped officers should execute the warrant.

There’s nothing out there showing ending no-knock raids would make officers less safe. It certainly would make the residents of houses raided safer. Many of those inside houses being raided are suspected of no criminal activity. This includes children who just happen to live in homes targeted (sometimes mistakenly) by officers who appear to believe catching kids in the crossfire is just acceptable collateral damage in the War on Drugs.

According to a New York Times study, no-knock raids involving SWAT-style tactics have led to the deaths of at least 100 people since 2010. Some of these are deaths of children, like seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones in Detroit who was shot in the head by police during a SWAT raid while she was sleeping next to her grandmother

[…]

Reports of botched raids show that no-knock warrants are used for an array of activities that simply do not justify the level of intrusion and inherent risk involved. Indeed, they have been deployed on high school students, in simple drug possession cases, and even for unpaid utility bills.

When the FOP argues in favor of no-knock raids, it’s arguing for continuing the escalating trend of police violence.

There has been more than a 1,400% increase in the total number of police paramilitary deployments, or callouts, between 1980 and 2000. Today, an estimated 45,000 SWAT-team deployments are conducted yearly among those departments surveyed; in the early 1980s there was an average of about 3,000 (Kraska, 2001). The trend-line demonstrated that this growth began during the drug war of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The city’s ordinance is trying to slow that roll. And it should make officers safer, whether they believe it will or not. Just because everyone calls it the “war on drugs” doesn’t mean PDs should erect paramilitary forces that treat regular warrant service like an assault on enemy territory. The FOP is suing because the cops its represents love the violence, the culture, and the opportunity to feel like they’re fighting a battle, rather than serving and protecting. Hopefully the court will point out that the city has the power to impose rules like this that do not directly violate the bylaws of the bargaining agreement.

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Comments on “Police Union Sues Kentucky City's Mayor, Claiming New No-Knock Warrant Ban Violates Its Bargaining Agreement”

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40 Comments
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

'It's our right to burst in guns blazing!'

Oh look, another example of why police unions need to be gutted as causing more harm than good…

Setting aside that no-knocks warrants are almost certainly more dangerous for everyone if anything the union is just making things worse for police here as even if they were right they’d still be wrong, going to bat for something that by their own assertions they almost never use but that has resulted in a number of dead homeowners, such that it would seem that to the extent the practice might make officers ‘safer’ it does so at a cost of lives from members of the public which probably isn’t going to improve the image of the police.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: 'It's our right to burst in guns blazing!'

"Oh look, another example of why police unions need to be gutted as causing more harm than good…"

Key takeaway being that whereas other unions try to exert leverage to get their members better working conditions, police unions exert leverage to undermine the rights and safety of everyone not a member.

"…going to bat for something that by their own assertions they almost never use but that has resulted in a number of dead homeowners…"

Case in point. The increased risk to police by a citizenry increasingly frightened of law enforcement can be mitigated by demanding more military materiel and slacker restrictions on the use of force.

US police has in many places turned into a protection racket.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Federico (profile) says:

National Tactical Officers Association

As John Oliver pointed out, former police also argue that drug raids are pointless: https://www.cato.org/blog/no-knock-warrants-war-drugs (conveniently quoting the New York Times).

“It just makes no sense,” said Mr. Chabali, a SWAT veteran who retired as assistant chief of the Dayton, Ohio, Police Department in 2015. “Why would you run into a gunfight? If we are going to risk our lives, we risk them for a hostage, for a citizen, for a fellow officer. You definitely don’t go in and risk your life for drugs.”

It will be fun if the police union is forced to present some evidence of their claims…

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: National Tactical Officers Association

"It will be fun if the police union is forced to present some evidence of their claims…"

Taking a look at the type of officer who often heads the local union I have little hope they’ll be able to present more than a demand for bigger guns and uniforms with a skull-mark punisher logo on it. Or in a few select cases, all black Hugo Boss productions with deaths head motifs on the cufflinks and collars, design courtesy of Karl Diebitsch and Walter Heck.

Anonymous Coward says:

Iits common sense police should knock announce thier presence wait a reasonable time for the person to respond
Many people have guns it’s legal to have a gun in America
They will respond with deadly force if they think they are being robbed or attacked
Police have to have a high standard of behavior than the ordinary service worker or postal worker
How many times have police gone to the wrong address and injured innocent people
It’s time to ban no knock police raids

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Lexington Law Enforcement

I have lived in Lexington, I know folks on the City Council that made this decision. I expect the LFUG (Lexington Fayette County Urban Government, a funny hybrid of municiple and county government) to prevail. I also expect some acting out by local law enforcement, as they are not the most disciplined of agencies. Metro law enforcement has long been a duality twixt the economic and racial classes they work with. Adjacent to the most expensive rural land on earth (Race Horse Farm tracts), while populated with an underclass of Blacks and rural rooted whites from some of the poorest parts of the nation, Metro law enforcement has needed to accomodate a wide range of society without much genuine leadership. Double standards have prevailed for decades, and are not going to go away soon. Metro law enforcement is in a bind, caught between history, old policy, wealth and poverty. Lexington is making progress, and the police unions might be better served by living with modern facts than fighting the changes.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Unions

Look, I disagree with Mike Masnick (I realize he didn’t write the article, but bear with me) on Unions. Collective Bargaining for the most part serves as a check on management. That being said, I draw the line on police unions, because while other unions would show solidarity with them when they strive for better wages, they don’t show any solidarity back; it’s a one-way street for them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Unions

Conceptually unions are a good thing.

However, they often trend toward job protection for the crappiest of employees and a race to the bottom. They can also get in the way of progress to keep the status quo.

Police unions seem to the most visible offenders when it comes to these issues. They’re way too powerful as politicians are wary of looking weak on crime and therefore cave to their every demand and a large portion of the population has some strange reverence for police.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

"no-knock warrants had been used four times in the last five years"

Would they like to tell the class the outcome of those 4 uses?
Y’all killed Ms. Taylor over the fact she had Amazon deliveries.
Y’all broke into the wrong home & terrorized innocent people.
What did y’all do the other 2 times?

"devoid of any "precautions to safeguard the health and safety of [LPD Officers]."
Please to tell me how many officers died during these 4 raids.
Please tell the class how many of these raids were so dangerous you needed to not knock & support it with facts not assumptions that Amazon is a drug supplier.
How many people did y’all shoot as collateral damage?
I mean you killed Ms. Taylor & got off but randomly shooting the neighbor through the wall was something they wouldn’t overlook.

Somehow the LPD officers couldn’t grasp that Ms. Taylor was no longer with the alleged drug dealing BF & was with someone new… how did you miss that while you were watching the Amazon boxes that your training and experience told you they had to be drug deliveries when you staked out her home?

Given that if y’all are telling the truth 2 of the raids we know about that means its a 50/50 shot you’ll fsck it up…
Perhaps y’all need to not do them until you can read numbers on houses & warrants to make sure they match & learn that Amazon doesn’t ship illegal drugs.

Break the union, its obvious they are more interested in officer safety more than the innocent people they manage to harm so they can play dressup and raid the wrong homes.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
TasMot (profile) says:

The "Flushing the Drugs Down the Toilet" Argument

The flushing argument was a biggie for why the no-knock warrants were needed in the first place, as in the suspects would flush the drugs down the toilet. Sounds good except that the ‘drug warriors’ are supposed to be going after the dealers in order to remove the supply chain of drugs. If your going after the dealers, they should have way too much of the drugs on hand that all of it couldn’t’ possibly get flush with a normal warrant service.

The reality is that they were going after small time dealers and the drug users that had a small personal amount on hand. Either case made good news because "drug bust", but did nothing to stop the flow of drugs. It generated more PR than anything. Now with the legalization of pot, these types of raids on drug users is going to be a non-starter for the PR and just a waste of police resources. Also, by legalizing pot, hopefully the sales of pot will move to the pot shops and out of residences.

Eldakka (profile) says:

Surely a civil contract cannot bind the legislative process of a legislative body – the city council?

I could understand if the Mayor made an executive decision, but a city council vote? No fucking way.

Is this much different from expecting a contract between a company and the state government from preventing/forcing state legislatures to pass/not-pass certain acts?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

In general, you’re certainly right. Law beats contracts.

Not knowing all the details and the structure of the local government, who the bargaining agreement was with, and the nature of the council vote is going to be important.

The FOP is going to have a difficult legal battle. This is likely more of a PR stunt than anything

Norahc (profile) says:

Let me get this straight…the group with the most guns at the scene, the group which believes they are the only one sufficiently trained to handle guns, the group with the body armor and bullet proof shields, and the group with the military armored vehicles is the same group that is now claiming they need to intentionally make a warrant service MORE dangerous in the name of safety?

Somebody needs to start drug testing the FOP…then they can be on the receiving end of their favored no-knock warrant.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

They had a policy in Pittsburgh that if an officer fired their weapon, was involved in a car crash, or was suspected of being intoxicated on duty they were drug tested. In 2015 their union sued saying it was an illegal search and seizure that violated officer’s constitutional rights. Not sure what the end result was, but the suit being filled is audacious enough even if they lost eventually. It’s just the most shameless hypocrisy imaginable.

ECA (profile) says:

In all this

Where are the investigators? the detectives?
The ones that should CHECK and monitor a location that is suspected?
To Expensive? To time consuming?

Even in my Little area in the country. The cops have remote cameras they use.
i was accused of trespassing on a persons property. Police set up a few cameras. NOTHING in 1 whole year, happened at that home, except the persons residing there, kept calling the police. NO one ever got near that home of property.

Then comes a great question. Where in hell is the riot gear? They are so scared of getting SHOT AT, and they wont wear in when they are RAIDING a home? Not even when they were watching the Riots, did we see that many officers wearing riot gear. does this require special training NOT GIVEN??

You would think a few cameras around a premise, would answer ALLOT of questions. Like HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE THERE, and HOW many cops you need to arrest 1 person inside.
Yes there are Bad apples, and they stand out very well, IF you look.
But lets not forget the JUDGES who sign off on these. In most cases its NOT just the cops running around doing it, without authorization. WE have allot of elected officials NOT DOING THE JOB THEY ARE HIRED FOR.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m still confused what the basis of the lawsuit is.

Even if we assume that no-knock warrants are, in fact, protected by their collective barganing agreement, that would only apply to decisions by police management to stop using no-knock warrants. It does not provide standing to challenge a law.

No contract can overide law, regardless of when the contract was signed or the law was passed. Contract provisions in violation of law are void per se.

We even have precedent on this, as many states successfully passed "right to work" laws, which clearly and explicitely violated union contracts, and resulted in the voiding of some provisions of said union contracts (rather than the law being struck down).

Anonymous Coward says:

The No-Knock Ordinance creates an extrajudicial "knock and announce" policy for all arrest and search warrants, devoid of any "precautions to safeguard the health and safety of [LPD Officers]."

Well, for one, the judiciary applies the law, it isn’t generally supposed to invent it out of whole cloth. WTF is "extrajudicial" even here for, other than to attempt to sound scary?

Second: What the hell do you call no-knock raids besides pretty much anti-Constitutional? That sort of thing should be reserved for very extreme circumstances.

Of course, cops think everything they do is extreme, and it rather is for the most part, only not in they way they fictionalize. They are the party generally providing the extremes.

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