'No-knock' warrants bill sparks clashing opinions

'No-knock' warrants bill sparks clashing opinions

CITY HALL – A proposal to ban “no knock” warrants for drug cases brought sharply different opinions at a Board of Aldermen committee meeting this week.

A city police officer said the warrants were rarely used and could make conditions safer. But a woman whose son was killed in a police shooting said the no-knock warrants should be eliminated.

“They’re not safe. Not only did they kill my son, they could have killed my father. They could have killed my other children,” said Gina Torres, whose son was killed in an incident involving a no-knock warrant. “But me and my other children were not there that day, the day they showed up shooting.”

However, Jay Schroeder, from the St. Louis Police Officers Association, said there were rare instances when the warrants could save the lives of police and suspects.

When an armed person is inside, knocking a door open suddenly.can be safer, he said.

“I think it’s a pretty important tool in the toolbox,” Schroeder said. “Everything is geared around citizen safety and officer safety. If that option isn’t there, it could cause some problems down the road.”

Both Torres and Schroeder spoke during a teleconference meeting of the Board of Aldermen’s Public Safety Committee held Monday. The meeting was called to consider a bill sponsored by Board of Alderman President Lewis Reed to control the use of force by city police.

The bill would require that in search warrants for drug cases, a police officer would provide notice of his or her authority and purpose. It deals with only local ordinance violations and not state and federal law violations.

Schroeder said that slightly less than 10 percent of the warrants executed by the city police SWAT team were no-knock warrants. Many fewer than 10 percent are actually carried out that way.

At the end of the meeting, the committee approved the bill and recommended that the whole Board of Aldermen pass it. 

The bill basically puts into law current policies of the city police and directs city police Commissioner John Hayden to update the city police on use of force. It calls for banning officers from using chokeholds or strangleholds and requires officers to use de-escalation tactics when appropriate and possible.

The bill also requires officers to either stop or attempt to stop another officer when he or she is applying force inappropriately or when it’s no longer required.

In addition, officers would have to make a report when they draw a weapon and point it at a civilian, no matter whether they discharge it.

A statement by the Ethical Society of Police, an organization that speaks for African-American police officers, said that requirement was a good one.

“Because we have officers who pull their weapons too much when it’s not necessary. It’s a red flag,” said the statement, from Sgt. Heather Taylor of the Ethical Society of Police.  

The Ethical Society statement noted that much of what was in the bill already was police policy.

Another speaker, Tony Taylor, said her son was killed by 21 gunshots by police on April 24, 2013, at Eighth and Carr streets.

Taylor said she thought police should no longer be immune from suits.

She said that now, “You can go to work and be able to shoot whoever and have immunity and get off.”

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