A police reform that has received significant attention is restricting or banning no-knock warrants and forced entry raids, particularly after the death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky. PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler spoke with police executives from four agencies that have changed their policies in recent months: the Orlando, FL Police Department; the Pinellas County, FL Sheriff’s Office; the San Antonio, TX Police Department; and the Buffalo, NY Police Department.

David Margolis, Chief Legal Counsel, Orlando Police Department

Our previous policy had already contemplated that no-knock warrants were pretty rare. In order to effectuate a no-knock warrant, our officers already had to articulate very specific circumstances, such as imminent danger of bodily peril, imminent or factually-based concerns about destruction of evidence. There were a few enumerated exceptions in our policy.

The primary change we have made is effectively to eliminate all those exceptions. Our revised policy says that our officers will neither request nor participate in a no-knock warrant of any kind. It goes on to say that if another agency asks us to participate in a no-knock warrant, we would have to decline that request. So now there are no exceptions allowed in our city.

It’s important to emphasize that we’re only talking about warrant execution here. We’re not talking about response to 9-1-1 calls or anything else that involves exigent circumstances or independent justification, such as a 9-1-1 emergency, to go into someone’s house.

In Florida, we have long had a statute that requires “knock and announce.” But that statute has not been particularly enforced by our courts. On the criminal side, our courts have held that violation of the knock-and-announce statute in Florida does not result in suppression of evidence. On the civil side, our courts have held that there is no civil liability. So as a practical matter, agencies in Florida have been able to push the boundaries of knock and announce. But if you actually read the text of Florida law, there really is no exception in our warrant statute.

We made this change because we got requests from the community for this change. Those no-knock situations are particularly volatile and dangerous situations for the officers, as well as people inside the home. In a no-knock situation, it’s very easy for someone to be alarmed and actually end up trying to defend their home and getting into a violent altercation, potentially even a shootout, with our officers. So from our perspective, it’s a request that was made by our community, but it’s also one that promotes officer safety.

We discussed this at length with the SWAT team and all our operational folks here. There are so many other ways we can deal with situations. If we need to go into someone’s home for exigent circumstances or situations that are not related to the search warrant, we still have the ability to do that. If it’s a search warrant situation, we can knock and announce, or we can wait them out outside. I think there will be a lot of options tactically. I think any time you take a tool away tactically, there can be a disadvantage, but in our conversations here, it’s nothing that we’re overly concerned about.

Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolón then joined the interview, adding: “When I initially asked how often we do no-knock warrants, no one could remember the last time we did it. That’s one reason we took this stance on no-knock warrants.”

Pinellas County Sheriff Robert Gualtieri

I started my law enforcement career 38 years ago. I spent 10 years working narcotics doing everything you could possibly do, including working on a DEA task force, Title III wiretaps, street-level drug stops, and being the first guy in the door on search warrants. I’m also a lawyer, and I’ve been in office as Sheriff for eight years.

In our history, we’ve had times where we’ve executed search warrants and shot and killed people who were unarmed. Even though I worked narcotics for 10 years, I was not in a decision-making role at that time and I didn’t set the policies. But it didn’t sit well with me, because I’m a strong believer in the adage that “just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” I believe that if, as the sheriff, I have to knock on the door of a loved one of a deputy who is killed while executing a search warrant or if I have to tell a family member of a drug trafficker or dope dealer that we had to kill them, it better damn well be worth it. To me, a piece of crack cocaine isn’t worth it. A baggie of marijuana isn’t worth it. The majority of these we’re talking about are drug search warrants.

About eight years ago, I informally implemented a change to our policy, though it wasn’t in our general orders. I said that we had an obligation to mitigate harm. We’re in a risky business, and you cannot avoid harm. But you can mitigate it, and you have an obligation to do that. I said that in these search warrant situations, especially drug search warrants, we’re going to spend time doing pre-surveillance on every location. I want to know who lives there besides that bad guy we have probable cause on. I want to know if there are uninvolved family members – kids, spouses, people with special needs, etc. I want to know the person’s patterns. Do they come and go from the house at a certain time every day? Then I want you to get that warrant and come up with a plan to take that person off when they go to the gas station or out on an errand. Approach them in a manner that is safe, with uniformed personnel.

It didn’t sit real well with the cops, but my job is to make decisions. They actually saw that it works. When we go back to clear that house, the majority of times that house is empty. That means you’re not going to have a Breonna Taylor situation.

In Florida, under a state Supreme Court decision, there is no basis for judge-issued no-knock warrants. You have to knock and announce. So the only time you have a no-knock situation in Florida is if you are approaching, you’re going to do a dynamic entry, and you have exigent circumstances, such as someone saying, “Flush the stuff because the cops are at the door.” Those are the exigent circumstances that create the no-knock environment.

I’ve said that we won’t put ourselves in that situation. If you did surveillance and the guy heads off to the gas station, then you don’t have to worry about it because the exigency isn’t going to be created.

In the last few years we’ve done over 80 warrants and only about five have been dynamic entry warrants. They have to be authorized by a division commander or higher, and they have to go through a whole analytical process before they can authorize a dynamic entry warrant.

Recently I formalized all that into a general order and announced it to the public. As all these reforms are being called for, people don’t know how much we are already doing. It really didn’t change anything, but it formalized it and let the public know the measures we’re taking.

This policy has not impacted our ability to be extremely effective. All this has done is made us safer and mitigated the harm. 

San Antonio Chief William McManus

I suspended all no-knock warrants back in June while we looked at the policy. We have banned all no-knock warrants, including arrest warrants. We have also prohibited anyone from applying for them, and there are no exceptions. We will make a dynamic entry on knock-and-announce warrants where we get no response.

In the case of arrest warrants, if we have an arrest warrant for an individual in a certain building or residence, we will handle service of that warrant like we do barricaded suspects. We will set up a perimeter, contact the individual inside, and ask them to come out. If they don’t come out, we will wait them out, but we’re not going to make a forced entry into that house. There have been too many examples across the country of how that can go very badly. If you ask me what keeps me awake at night, it’s service of no-knock warrants.

Chuck Wexler: Do other departments have that policy on arrest warrants in place?

Chief McManus: I’ve not heard of that being done in any other department. We’ll get the person, it’s just a matter of how long it takes. We’ll surveil for a while, and  then attempt to make contact with the person inside.

We did this just last week. We set up on a house where there was a murder suspect we had a warrant for. We made contact with his father inside the house and asked him to send his son out, which he did.

That’s how we’re going to do those from now on. There’s nothing to lose except a little bit of time if we can’t get the person to come out right away.

Wexler: What has been the reaction internally and in the community?

Chief McManus: There has been no reaction internally from the union, and I’m confident the community will approve of the change.  

Wexler: What if your officer is on a federal task force that plans to execute a no-knock warrant?

Chief McManus: They have to sit that one out. The general orders say that if you’re in a federal task force, you can’t participate in a no-knock warrant. 

Buffalo Deputy Chief Joseph Gramaglia

We just changed our policy and did not do an outright ban on no-knock warrants, but we are greatly restricting them. We did not want to completely ban them because of those certain situations where you need to make that entry.

This goes back to last winter, when we started looking at our narcotics warrants. Narcotics made up about 90-95% of our warrant entries. We felt we needed to really change things. It started with outfitting our narcotics detectives with body cameras.

We used threat matrix forms from other agencies to create our own threat matrix. We changed our operations plans and ordered additional equipment for narcotics.  We decided we had to take a deeper look at this, because we were doing a lot of no-knock search warrants for narcotics.

Our policy now is that a threat matrix, an operations plan, and a warrant checklist all must be completed. They must bring those documents to either me or the chief of detectives, and we have to make sure they have done everything possible to ensure a safe and complete investigation. Then we will provide them with the type of endorsement that they will seek from the judge. It’s going to be very, very rare that a no-knock endorsement will be granted. 


The PERF Critical Issues Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting this work.