I won’t speculate on how the search warrant in Houston was carried out in regards to tactical specifics. Did they hit lights and sirens on a patrol car? Did they scream “Police!” as they were making entry? I don’t know. At this point, even that aspect of that tragedy is convoluted with no concrete answers on what transpired. Needless to say, there’s no point in speculating and making a bad situation worse. Immediately after the tragedy, comments were made about “stopping no-knock warrants” in Houston by Chief Acevedo. A typical response by a Chief scrambling to appease the masses. I could elaborate for pages abouit that topic, however, this article is simply aimed at explaining the two methods of search warrant executions, that’s all.
This topic is inherently controversial, even amongst police officers. It’s similar to a Chevy vs Ford debate in the sense that it comes down to personal preference and opinion, except it gets much more heated. Why? I think because some people are adamant that one method is more dangerous than the other. Other police officers make the argument you can get shot, or end up shooting someone, regardless of which method is used. Either way, I’ll do my best to explain every aspect of search warrants without writing a book and let the fiery debates and arguments begin!
SEARCH WARRANT BASICS
I have just over three years of personal experience writing and executing narcotics search warrants, so this article is written solely based on that experience and does not reflect current policies or procedures as they may have changed. It’s also important to understand that every agency has their own way of writing and executing search warrants. Depending on their training, department policies, the district attorney’s office, or simply preference in style, search warrants will generally vary to some degree from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
Having said that, every search warrant is the same, in that it must have a few basic necessities in order to be signed by a judge. First and foremost, it must articulate probable cause that a crime has been or is being committed and the search warrant in which you are applying for, is seeking permission to go somewhere and search for evidence that relates to that specific crime.
So for the purposes of discussing narcotics search warrants, most evidentiary warrants I wrote, sought permission to enter a residence and search for narcotics. The warrant was based on the fact that either I or a confidential informant purchased narcotics from that residence. There are other methods but for the purposes of this article, that is all I’ll cover.
At this point, all search warrants are the same, in that they will simply describe in great detail the location they intend to search, the person(s) (if known) they believe are in care, custody, and control of the residence, and it will detail why you think there are drugs being sold from the residence.
“KNOCK AND ANNOUNCE” WARRANTS
The one way search warrants differ, is whether or not you as the lead detective would add a “no knock clause” in the search warrant. In simple terms, this clause, if GRANTED by the Judge, allows the entry team to go to the residence and immediately begin working on the making entry into the residence. On the contrary, a warrant without a “no knock clause” would have to be executed in a normal “knock and announce” fashion. This is the “default” way a warrant will be executed.
A “knock and announce” search warrant, means that the officers executing the search warrant do not believe there is any exigency in entering the residence quickly. For example, if they are searching for a murder suspect, or evidence that cannot be destroyed, there is no exigency for an entry team to quickly get inside. Additionally, if it is the belief that knocking and announcing their presence would NOT endanger the police officers in any way, then they would not include a “no knock” clause in their warrant.
This warrant would be executed by showing up, surrounding the residence, and announcing their presence with directions for anyone inside to exit the residence. The warrant team would take up positions of cover and wait a “reasonable” amount of time for anyone to exit the residence. Eventually, if there is no answer, they will go ahead and make entry into the residence. A slow and methodical search for the person or evidence they are seeking will be conducted, with or without the consent of anyone inside.
THE “NO-KNOCK” WARRANT EXPLAINED
A “no knock” clause would be added and applied for, if any of the previously mentioned details were different. If the lead detective felt knocking and announcing their presence, waiting an undetermined “reasonable amount of time” to allow people to exit the residence, would hinder their investigation or create a more dangerous situation for the officers, a no-knock clause would be included in the search warrant. This clause is subject to approval by the reviewing judge or magistrate and could be denied.
Examples of why a “no knock” clause would be applied for include but are not limited to: The drugs being sold inside the residence could be easily and readily destroyed. Drug dealers utilize multiple methods to destroy their drugs quickly in the event the police show up. This would have to be articulated in detail for example they have a constant open flame, a hot plate with oil, or they sell out of the bathroom next to a toilet. Other factors include the residence being heavily barricaded with cages, which means it will take a significant amount of time to gain entry (element of surprise is gone). There are cameras that will likely tip off the drug dealers that the entry team is there (element of surprise is gone). Guns and other weapons have been observed inside the drug house, or any other articulable facts that a reasonable person would believe that standing outside the residence, announcing their presence and waiting for the occupants to surrender, would either allow for the destruction of evidence or potentially pose a greater threat to the officers as they wait to be allowed inside.
It’s important to note that even in a “no-knock” warrant situation, the likelihood that suspected drug dealers do not see the police coming or are not somehow alerted, is slim to none in most instances. Drug dealers go to great lengths to give themselves the best chance to destroy evidence, or flee the residence in hopes of not being arrested. This is their job. They plan for the possibility of getting caught and do everything in their power to avoid it.
This is where the debate among police officers and citizens alike gets hairy. Some police officers feel that no amount of drugs are “worth their life” and therefore, any method other than a “no knock” warrant should be employed in order to catch the violent drug dealers that plague our streets with drugs and related violence. Others, feel it is a worthy cause and that warrants no matter how they are executed, carry risk.
I think when it comes to the public and maybe some police officers who haven’t executed these kinds of warrants themselves, the common misconception is that a “no knock” warrant means nothing is being said, no warning or announcement is given while entry is being made. This couldn’t be FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH.
During a “no-knock” search warrant execution, upon reaching the doorway or caged door of the drug house in question, the second they begin working on breaking open the door or removing caged barricades, the entire entry team begins announcing their presence by yelling “Police!” At this point, the secret is out, they are there and they are coming in.
The main difference in “no-knock” versus “knock and announce” is the officers are authorized to immediately work on making entry (break down or open caged doors or barricades) once they arrive and immediately enter without waiting for people to surrender on their own.
Most of these houses are not “houses” as you think of them. Many of them are “trap houses” that may be rented by someone and outfitted to solely sell narcotics from them. They don’t have furniture, beds, dishes, etc. They have heavily barricaded doors and windows, hidden compartments, and maybe an air mattress or a couch where the drug dealers hang out and play video games while they wait for their next customer. It’s a business folks, they protect it by any means necessary.
I hope this explains “knock and announce” vs “no-knock” and dispels some rumors or myths about how they are obtained and more importantly explains how they are executed.
Thank an officer today.
The Officer Next Door