House panel advances bill to limit no-knock warrants

People protest during a caravan.
Daniel Zachman holds a sign reading "Amir Locke" as dozens of cars wrap around at least two blocks, several lanes across, to caravan through downtown Minneapolis on Feb. 4, protesting the police killing of Amir Locke.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

A Minnesota House panel advanced legislation Thursday to limit the use of no-knock warrants by law enforcement.

No-knock warrants have been under increased scrutiny since the fatal police shooting of Amir Locke earlier this month in Minneapolis. Police used a no-knock warrant in that case, although Locke was not the subject of the warrant.

The committee debated the bill as mourners attended Locke’s funeral in Minneapolis.

Rep. Athena Hollins, DFL-St. Paul, said her bill would prevent a similar situation from ever happening again.

“No matter what you think about race or systemic oppression, you can’t argue that this bill would have any effect other than keeping our communities and our officers safe,” Hollins said. “No-knock warrants are a dangerous tool.”

Under the bill, no-knock warrants would be limited only to cases of people being held against their will and in danger of death or great bodily harm.

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The bill requires the Department of Public Safety to develop a standard no-knock search warrant application by Oct. 1. The attorney general’s office would oversee training.

Mendota Heights, Minn., police Chief Kelly McCarthy spoke in support of the legislation. She also suggested going further with a full ban.

“Banning no-knock warrants does demonstrate to the community that we hear their concerns and are committed to preserving human life,” McCarthy said.

But other law enforcement officials oppose the bill.

St. Cloud, Minn., police Chief Blair Anderson said officers are dealing with dangerous criminals when a no-knock warrant is involved.

“We are dealing with people who have demonstrated over and over and over again that they will not comply, that they will not be civil, that they will use any means necessary to avoid capture,” Anderson said.

Rep. Brian Johnson of Cambridge, the lead Republican on the committee, said the bill is the wrong approach. Johnson said no-knock warrants are an important tool in the toolbox for police.

“Do not take tools away that are used properly,” Johnson said.

Members of the House Public Safety Committee voted 10-9 for the bill. All the committee’s Republicans and one Democrat voted against it. The bill now goes to the judiciary committee.