MILWAUKEE — As the two-year anniversary of Breonna Taylor’s death nears, the Milwaukee Police Department will have its first year where it does not conduct its own no-knock search warrants in the city.
The high profile tactic came into the national conversations after police officers in Louisville, KY shot and killed Taylor while serving a warrant. The incident garnered national attention and calls for reformative change. Late last year, the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission voted to ban the use of this tactic entirely.
“The reality is, if bullets start flying, those bullets go through walls,” Ed Fallone, Chair of the FPC said. “Those bullets go wherever.”
Fallone says he and the rest of the FPC spent about a year researching the use of no-knock warrants with the Milwaukee Police Department. This came at the calling of social justice advocates from around the area.
The Milwaukee Police Department had already begun taking a serious look at how it implements no-knock warrants. In 2019, MPD executed 250 no-knock search warrants, which accounted for 71.6 percent of all warrants served. In 2020, the year Taylor was killed in Louisville, that number dropped significantly; 81 no-knock warrants served, totaling 30.2 percent of all warrants served. And in 2021, Milwaukee Police executed just six no-knock warrants; 1.8 percent of all warrants served.
“One life lost is one life too many,” ADante Jordan, with The People’s Revolution said. “Why take that chance?”
Jordan has been a leader in advocating for law enforcement reform. While he acknowledges the dangers officers face in their job, he doesn’t feel no-knock search warrants are the best way to keep everyone safe.
“The job itself, it’s dangerous,” Jordan said. “I’m not taking away from that responsibility. But this should help them to come up with better more effective ways in doing it.”
The reason Jordan advocated for banning no-knocks is because of the disparate impact he feels it has on the Black community. According to a study by The Sentencing Project in 2021, one in 36 Black Wisconsinites is in prison; a rate that is 11.9 times higher than white Wisconsinites.
“When you look at what we’ve had to deal with as an African community with police procedures or lack thereof, the no-knock is the most dangerous,” Jordan said.
However, the Milwaukee Police Association disagrees with the full ban on no-knock warrants.
“This is one more tool that’s taken away from our safety and community safety in this heightened time of police politics,” MPA President Andrew Wagner said.
According to Wagner, the biggest difference between a knock and no-knock warrant is the element of surprise. Under the new policy, officers must wait a “reasonable amount of time” between knocking and making entry. Wagner says, that time is valuable.
“It gives officers about five seconds of surprise,” Wagner said. “To be able to enter that first room of the house and get control. As they enter, they announce police and that allows people in the house to pretty much freeze. Officers can react to what their actions are instead of people having time to arm themselves. Whether it’s going to be to do harm to themselves or police with weapons and things.”
It also prevents the destruction of evidence, Wagner says. That doesn’t just mean drugs. He says it can prevent child predators or other suspects in internet crimes from destroying computer hard drives with valuable evidence that can be used to convict them.
“Without that evidence, these cases won't get convictions and these people will be on the streets,” Wagner said. “We don’t want them to destroy a hard drive with child pornography on it. We don’t want them to do that because down the road, that doesn’t help when they get their case cleared.”
Wagner is urging lawmakers at a state level to reverse the action of the FPC in Milwaukee. Proposed legislation would prohibit local entities from banning no-knock search warrants.
Wagner feels the current state of ‘police politics’ led to an impulsive decision to ban this tactic. He feels the political pressures after the death of Breonna Taylor is to blame.
“All of a sudden, we see a couple national stories and, what I feel is, a knee jerk reaction to ban them all,” Wagner said. “But I think the risk was more safe for the community with no-knock warrants.”
Fallone says the FPC’s dedication to looking into this practice, working with MPD for roughly a year, is proof there wasn’t a knee jerk reaction. Paired with the fact that MPD issued just six no-knocks last year, Fallone and the FPC felt confident in banning them entirely.
“We asked MPD, please give us a factual scenario where no-knocks were authorized in the last year, so we can understand where you think it might be appropriate. At least two of the six instances, police were observed arriving and the individuals in the house already knew police were there,” Fallone said. “The last calendar year, there were six no-knock warrants authorized. That’s a small number. When you have that few, it raises the question, should we have any?”
Wagner fears the full ban will put police in farm more danger and may result in more line of duty deaths. That determination will only come with time.
“It’s going to take an incident,” Wagner said. “That’s unfortunately how things work. A major tragedy happens and then, well if officers were given these tools, then officers weren’t killed.”
“Something could happen tomorrow and fingers point to the Commission to say, you made the wrong decision,” Fallone said. “That’s the responsibility we have on the Commission.”
But from the perspective of those calling for change, Jordan says this is a sign of progress.
"That was a major step," Jordan said. "The fact that they even took the time to really hear the concerns of the community is something that is new. It's new. We're not really used to them hearing the whole story."
While the FPC’s decision bans Milwaukee Police Officers from requesting no-knock search warrants, MPD can still participate in them. If an outside agency, like a Federal Law Enforcement Agency, requests help in serving a no-knock warrant in the City of Milwaukee, MPD Officers can still participate in them, as long as the Chief of Police signs off on them.