The Vocal Minority on No-Knock Warrants.
In comments on my last post, my good friend Old NFO stated that the sad thing was that I was beginning to become the minority in my opinion. I began to respond, and then decided that this needed a post all its own.
I don't think that's necessarily the truth. The problem is that too many cops are hearing a vocal minority who are declaring that our lives are too important NOT to do No-Knock Warrants, without really thinking it out:
1. No Knocks increase the likelihood of our being shot at.
2. The argument is meretricious-- the real hidden goal often is to protect evidence.
3. What about the innocents and those maybe not-innocent-but-not-deserving-of-being-shot? Shouldn't we protect their lives?
If we lay it out that way, I think that the average cop will agree that No Knock Warrants have by and large had their day.
The vast, vast vast majority of cops do not serve No-Knock Warrants.
I've served a few felony search warrants (not that many, though), and I have never served a No-Knock warrant, in almost a decade and a half. I've never even been asked to do so.
The last felony search warrant that I served came closest, and that wasn't very close. We had a drug raid where one of our officers obtained a felony search warrant, and there was a discussion of obtaining a No-Knock clause (the guy had a pistol), but in the end, we just beat on the door, and shouted "Police with a search warrant! Open up!" When no one answered after the given time, we opened the door with a sledge hammer, and announced ourselves repeatedly before securing the scene. The guy was gone, but his drug dealing operation (drugs, money, gun, files) wasn't. We taped the warrant to the broken door, and left with the evidence, and got an arrest warrant. Like you do.
In a small department, we do pretty much everything, which means that we act as investigator, entry team member, and bailiff. If a No-Knock Warrant were obtained in our department, I would have known about it. Not once in my career have I been part of such a thing. This isn't a brag-- I don't think that the next department south or north has done one in that time, either. It's just not that common. So why is it that we small town PDs can get along without them, but the larger ones can't? I think that the answer lies in the mentality of the tactical commanders of SWAT teams.
The premier SWAT unit in the United States has traditionally been the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team (HRT). They have a very difficult and specialized job, which they are trained to do really well. Everyone wants to be the elite, and thus, tactical teams look toward that team as the standard to emulate. But here's the thing: hostage rescue isn't that common. The vast majority of the uses for tactical teams turns out to be high risk warrant service. But since hostage rescue does occasionally happen, they train for it, as they should. The problem comes when you apply training for this situation to other situations. When SWAT goes in on a hostage rescue, you can bet that the likelihood of someone getting shot at goes way up. We do NOT want that increased percentage of a shooting in an instance where we could prevent it, like a simple warrant service. But when you model yourself after a group whose primary role is hostage rescue, you can get into that mindset.
Bona fide tac commanders are the snake eaters in a department, and tend to be highly regarded. They are used to giving directions and being heard. They are used to looking at a problem and seeing how to overcome it. We need these guys. We also need to keep them in check, and check their influence on standard. Often, the tactical commanders have a good handle on when and when not to use force and surprise, but they will be misunderstood and misquoted by others. A culture develops where the guy who raises his hand and questions why we need to make "Dynamic Entries" is derided by those who don't actually know what the tactical commander actually would do.
So it is that we have a good number of guys who are infected with bad information.
Approximately half of the officers in this nation come from departments of 10 or fewer sworn officers. Those smaller departments do NOT have "SWAT teams," per se (sometimes departments will have task force teams). I think that most of the smaller departments do not have as much of a shift toward no-knocks, because they don't have a tactical team. I am not against SWAT-- we need them, badly at times. They practice to do a difficult job which is everything about teamwork and very little about personal achievement. I do not think that the answer is to ban them. But part of the tactical training, especially for commanders, needs to be to recognize when to hold off on the "dynamic entries."
The only hostage rescue that I ever took part in, I played a tiny role of. A murderer had a child that he planned to abscond to Mexico with. He had holed up in a motel. I was one of the first ones at the motel, and with my patrol rifle I lay in prone overwatch on the door of that motel for about 90 minutes, waiting for SWAT to deploy. When they relieved me, I was grateful-- without a shooter's mat, I had found every little acorn under that live oak that I had set up under that night. The next morning, the tactical guys set upon the bad guy as he stepped out of the motel, and arrested him peacefully. Like pros.