“No-Knock” Search Warrants Are Not the Enemy, Violent Criminals With Guns Are

police-entry-warrantless

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.

THE DEBATE

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

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Houston Police Chief Prematurely Alleges Officers Lied To Obtain Search Warrant, Causes Widespread Controversy and Anger

SWAT breaching door

Let me start by saying, I disagree with how Chief Acevedo has handled this incident. Before the completion of the investigation, he has publicly stated he believes there were “mistruths” in the search warrant affidavit. Then Chief Acevedo doubled down and said, “I’m very confident that we’re going to have criminal charges on one or more police officers,” according to an article from NPR.

Such allegations are concerning, no doubt.

However, he could have simply stated: “As with every police involved shooting, we are conducting an extensive internal investigation into this incident. We are also reviewing the narcotics investigation that precluded the execution of the search warrant to ensure everything was done properly. I can assure the citizens of Houston, IF any criminal misconduct or policy violations are found, they will be handled swiftly and properly. Any criminal charges or administrative discipline deemed necessary, will be forth coming once the internal investigation is COMPLETED.”

Boom. Done. Simple.

Then we wait and see what happens. If misconduct is found, file charges, issue terminations, announce it, and be transparent at that time.

Instead, he released detailed allegations that are potentially criminal in nature. I disagree with this approach. You can be transparent and promote accountability without throwing your troops under the bus BEFORE an investigation is completed.

Continuing his tornado of knee-jerk statements, Chief Acevedo stated the Houston Police Department will no longer use “no-knock” search warrants, in a heated meeting with a group of activists and members of the public.

The method of HOW they served the warrant was NOT the reason bad things happened. The shooting could have still taken place if different search warrant tactics were used. The fact remains, the people inside the house decided to shoot at police officers.

Remember how the Chief stated this all transpired in an article dated January 28, 2019, in USA TODAY:

“Suspects opened fire as soon as officers breached the door at a residence in southeast Houston, Police Chief Art Acevedo said at an evening press conference. Two suspects died at the scene from police gunfire, but Acevedo said police do not know how many suspects shot at police.

About a dozen narcotics officers and six patrol officers, Acevedo said, were at the scene to serve the warrant and provide support to investigate the sale of black tar heroin. Officers breached the front door just before 5 p.m. local time while announcing themselves and hitting the siren and lights on a patrol car.”

However, that has all changed, because on Monday, February 18th, an article from the New York Times stated the following:

“Chief Acevedo stated the Police Department would largely end the practice of forcibly entering homes to search them without warning as officers did the evening of the deadly raid. Moving forward, he said that if officers want to use the tactic, known as no-knock warrants, they would need his permission.”

Without warning? I thought they announced themselves while breaching the door, hitting the lights and siren on a patrol car? I don’t know about you, but to me, that is warning.

Yelling: “Police! Search warrant!” + Siren noise = warning. Not to mention it was 5 p.m., not exactly dark out. I can only imagine they were wearing articles of clothing and/or body armor with the word “POLICE” clearly displayed on them.

So why is this such a debacle? Maybe because Acevedo rushes in front of the cameras to say ANYTHING at all, in hopes of appeasing the public. By doing so, he makes himself and the Houston Police Department look foolish. No one likes flip-flopping. Wait for the facts, it isn’t that difficult.

Search warrant tactical debates aside, I see nothing wrong with saying the following: IF the Houston narcotics detective(s) lied, cut corners, fabricated facts, or did anything untruthful to obtain the search warrant, they deserve to be punished.

If you have a problem with me saying that, fine. Don’t follow me or read my articles. I started this website to tell the truth about policing from an officer’s perspective. My main goal is fighting false and inflammatory narratives that exist today, making police officers’ jobs more dangerous.

The very same narratives that lead to people becoming radicalized and killing my co-workers in Dallas, Texas on July 7th, 2016, or days after in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

That is why I say if wrong, they deserve to be punished.

The public needs to hear that statement.

This isn’t me saying ANYONE is guilty, anyone lied, or speculating before an investigation is complete. It is an “IF THEN” statement. IF wrong, THEN punish them. IF they did nothing wrong, THEN they should be vindicated. Presumed innocent, until proven guilty like anyone else.

It’s the Chief’s fault for releasing such detailed allegations this early, while the detective was still in the hospital. His statements and the specificity of them, are the reason the controversy about truthfulness exists.

Part of fighting the false narrative of  “thin blue line of cover-ups” involves admitting mistakes, accepting responsibility for poor decisions, and denouncing behavior that is detrimental to police officers’ reputations. This needs to be done regularly and doesn’t suggest we can’t fight false accusations or stand behind an officer when they are in the right.

In today’s society, if you remain silent about something even POTENTIALLY negative, the masses assume you condone it. It’s that simple.

Put simply, a dishonest police officer has wide spread, long lasting, negative ramifications on the entire profession.

Recently, the FBI announced they are conducting an investigation collaboratively, yet independently, into the search warrant and possible civil rights violations.

As I mentioned, I have multiple follow up articles planned regarding this incident and related topics.

They include: Search warrants – “no-knock” versus “knock announce” how they differ and the pros and cons about each of them, the myths about the “THIN BLUE LINE OF SILENCE”, and lastly, how knee jerk policy changes by police chiefs simply attempt to appease the public but do more harm than good.

So stay tuned and feel free to subscribe for email notifications when an article is published.

As always, thank an officer today.

The Officer Next Door