GettyImages-1217489728.jpg

On Thursday evening, Louisville Metro Council will vote on “Breonna’s Law,” a new ordinance that will ban no-knock searches, the type of warrant that led to police killing Breonna Taylor in her own home on March 13.

No-knock warrants are searches executed by law enforcement that do not require officers to knock or announce themselves prior to entry. These warrants have garnered renewed public scrutiny in the wake of Taylor’s death, but as Councilwoman Jessica Green told Prism, they have long been troubling. Green says that between January and May 2020, the Louisville Police Department has issued six no-knock warrants, including the fatal March raid that ended Taylor’s life. In 2020, the department executed 22.

The use of no-knock warrants has been proven to be both ineffective and deadly. While their use rose exponentially throughout the 1990s in both large cities and small towns, a 2017 New York Times study found that no-knock warrants led to the deaths of at least 100 people in the prior seven years. That violence is also often disproportionately waged against communities of color. An ACLU study of 20 cities found that 42% of SWAT style raids—a type of unannounced search that utilizes specialized military equipment and tactics—targeted Black people and 12% targeted Latinx people. 

Louisville Councilman Brandon Coan told Prism that the ordinance originally planned to limit the number of no-knock warrants, but the council ultimately agreed to completely ban their use instead. If voted into law, the ordinance will also place greater restrictions on all search warrants executed by the Louisville Metro Police Department, Louisville Metro Department of Corrections, and other public safety officials.

Some of those provisions include the requirement that officers physically knock in a “manner and duration” that can be heard by occupants and that they announce themselves as police before entering. Officers must wait at least 15 seconds before entering and body cameras must be worn by all officers present at the execution of the warrant and for the duration of the entire search. That recorded data must then be retained for five years.

Coan cited overwhelming support for the ordinance within the council as a positive sign that it will be passed: In a rare move, 23 of the 26 council members have co-sponsored it. The broader Louisville community as well as those outside of Kentucky have echoed that support for Breonna’s Law. Green said she has received thousands of emails and letters praising the law, far outnumbering any letters in opposition. Given the overwhelming public support, Louisville’s police union may face a challenge should they attempt to push back against the law.

This outpouring of support mirrors national disfavor over the use of no-knock warrants. According to polling conducted by The Justice Collaborative for a report released this month, 72% of respondents agreed that no-knock raids should be limited to “exceptional cases where the police are investigating a crime that involves the risk of serious physical injury or death.” Sixty-seven percent of respondents believed that no-knock raids are dangerous for occupants, bystanders, and even police themselves, and 65% agreed that these raids endanger the lives of innocent people, including children.

Green recognizes this support as a harbinger for more change throughout the city and the need for additional restraints on the Louisville Metro Police. She anticipates, for example, upcoming legislation banning chokeholds and restricting police use of force. As for whether the council will be joining other cities in addressing the growing demand to defund the police remains to be seen. Coan says the budgeting process for the upcoming fiscal year is winding down so any dramatic changes to the existing 2021 budget are not definite. He has requested however, that the budget committee reexamine allocations to the Louisville Metro Police Department and make immediate changes where possible, such as not authorizing any spending on military-style weapons and equipment.

Breonna Taylor’s death has placed the city under a national microscope and it will likely stay there throughout this uprising and beyond. Green says that the council as a whole is “looking at police reform with a new set of eyes and in a new way. The whole world will be watching us in Louisville.”

Tamar Sarai

Tamar Sarai is a features staff reporter at Prism. Follow her on Twitter @bytamarsarai.