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.