Minneapolis council questions Frey on 'no-knock' warrants policy

Protesters call for justice for Amir Locke
More than 1,000 people march through downtown Minneapolis on Saturday in response to the police killing of Amir Locke three days earlier. Locke, a 22-year-old Black man, was killed by police while they executed a search warrant.
Nicole Neri for MPR News file

Updated: Feb. 8, 9:12 a.m. | Posted: Feb. 7, 6:23 p.m.

Minneapolis city leaders want Mayor Jacob Frey to end the use of no-knock warrants, not just put them on pause.

The mayor on Friday announced a “moratorium” on the practice following the police killing of Amir Locke, 22, during a raid last week. The hold on no-knock warrants stays in place while the city, Minneapolis Police Department leaders, and outside experts requested by the city examine how the serving of warrants should be changed.

At a City Council committee meeting on Monday, Frey emphasized that his prior policy ended the practice of police entering unannounced, yet he admitted it was not a total ban.

“We believed at the time that the most important piece was the announcement itself. And clearly I think in addition to the announcement, there’s room to go even further,” Frey said.

Minneapolis council member Jeremiah Ellison discusses Mayor Frey's 'no-knock' policy

Rachel Moran, law professor at the University of St. Thomas, studies the use of warrants in Minneapolis. She told the council committee what Frey announced after the killing of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, by police in Louisville, Ky., was not a ban.

“What Mayor Frey’s November 2020 policy did was [to] require Minneapolis police in most situations to announce their presence before crossing the threshold into a residence,” Moran said.

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Moran said the police who raided the apartment where Locke was staying appeared to have followed this policy. They announced their presence either just before or while they were crossing the threshold. The group entered with a key obtained from building managers and did not knock on the door.

Officer Mark Hanneman fired at least three shots. Police body camera video shows Locke, wrapped in a blanket, stirring and holding a handgun as officers say, “police,” and “search warrant” and tell him to show his hands and get on the floor. About nine seconds elapsed between the time police entered the apartment and Hanneman fired his weapon.

A screen capture of a police body camera video.
A screen capture of a police body camera video shows the Minneapolis SWAT team enter an apartment where police fatally shot 22-year-old Amir Locke on Feb. 2.
Courtesy of Minneapolis Police Department

Moran said no-knock raids are dangerous for everyone involved; between 2010 and 2016, 94 people were killed nationwide in no-knock raids, including 13 police officers.

MPR News Matt Sepic provides more on Mayor Frey's 'no-knock' policy

The city of Minneapolis reported in late 2020 that they’d been averaging around 130 no-knock warrants a year. But even after the mayor’s purported ban, the Minneapolis police still requested 90 of these warrants, according to Moran’s research.

University of St. Thomas law student Sarah Murtada, who works with Moran, told the committee that St. Paul does not have a formal ban, but hasn’t executed a no-knock raid since 2016.

She said the last officer killed in the line of duty in either city was 17 years ago. And Murtada points out that St. Paul police are solving a higher proportion of homicides than their counterparts across the river.

“In 2020, the Minneapolis clearance rate was 37 percent. In St. Paul, it was 91 percent,” Murtada said.

During his campaign for reelection, Frey claimed that he’d imposed a ban on no-knock warrants, using the word “ban” specifically. Language to that effect was on his campaign website as recently as May but taken down sometime between then and Election Day last November, according to snapshots of the site on archive.org.

mayor speaks at a podium
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey speaks at a press conference on Wednesday following the fatal police shooting of Amir Locke.
Screenshot via livestream

The mayor appeared at the committee meeting at the council’s invitation. In response to a question from council member Jeremiah Ellison, Frey said throughout the course of his campaign his language about the policy change became more “casual.”

“My language and what we were saying, certainly in longer form, honored the spirit of this policy change, but there were instances when it did not, and I own that,” the mayor said.

MinnPost reporter Walker Orenstein explains MPD's no-knock warrants.

Activists continued to call for changes in leadership at MPD and for Frey himself to be held accountable.

Minneapolis NAACP head Cynthia Wilson was encouraged to see protests in the Twin Cities this weekend, calling for justice for Locke, who was Black.

“Recognizing that the only way we’re going to get change is if we have our feet to the ground and we’re out there in the midst of taking change. Because we’ve demanded, we’ve asked, we’ve done all of those things, all the way down to begging for change. And some point the rhetoric has to cease and action has to take place,” Wilson said.

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