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No Changes To No-Knock Warrants In Cincinnati, For Now

breonna taylor protest
Timothy D. Easley
/
AP
Signs show Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police executing a no-knock warrant this past spring, during a rally in her honor on the steps of the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., Thursday, June 25, 2020.

A move to change how no-knock warrants are executed in Cincinnati has been delayed after concerns were raised during the Law and Public Safety meeting Wednesday. Among the issues are whether elected officials have the authority to change police procedures, and who was involved in writing the proposed changes.

The motion, spearheaded by Council Member Chris Seelbach, would limit no-knock warrants to deadly emergency situations, such as an active shooter, hostage, murder or act of terrorism. It also details other stipulations, like ensuring police body cameras are on at least five minutes before the warrant is served, requiring officers to be in full uniform, and demanding officers provide more detailed information to judges when seeking a no-knock warrant.

Seelbach says he initially intended to write legislation calling for an outright ban on no-knock warrants. But after collaborating with officials, experts and activists, they collectively decided to take a more nuanced approach to the issue and review how no-knocks are used locally.

"We really looked at how we can reform and serve warrants better from beginning to end, and so we're not going to ban no-knock warrants," he said.

But Assistant City Solicitor Mark Manning said during the meeting, elected officials don't have the authority to demand those changes from the Cincinnati Police Department or City Manager Paula Boggs Muething.

Without their participation or approval, Seelbach's motion could be considered just an unmanned suggestion as opposed to having any real teeth.

Committee chairman Christopher Smitherman said it would be better for the committee to try working with Muething and CPD to find common ground instead of trying to force changes upon them.

"The city manager is indicating through our lawyers that we don't have the authority to direct her to do this. And so by bringing everybody together ... and hearing from the chief and hearing from the manager about what they're willing to do and all the parties, I think we get somewhere where we can go to the African American community in particular and say we didn't do window dressing here," he said. "We actually did something that people are really executing on."

It's been nearly a year since no-knock warrants were thrust into the public sphere after Louisville woman Breonna Taylor was killed by police during the execution of a no-knock warrant in her home.

Longtime Activist Iris Roley said during public comment that no-knock warrants have not been at the top of people's list when it comes to police reform in the city. But that doesn't mean the city shouldn't proactively make changes to ensure they have the best policy possible.

"But there's always opportunity to improve and that is simply what we've done is we've upgraded and improved what we have on the books to ensure everyone is safe, including the police," she said. "This does not exclude police. This is not an 'us versus them.' This has to do with all of us."

Council Member Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney says despite all the work that's gone into the proposed legislation, there are still data points officials don't know.

"How many no-knock warrants are granted every year here in Cincinnati and then (in) what neighborhoods, you know, demographics? I've heard that across the country they tend to be granted more in Black neighborhoods," she said. "And so I'm just wondering, what are we doing here in Cincinnati?"

Nobody knew all the data Kearney was requesting.

WVXU submitted a public records request for similar data in November, but have not received the information, yet.

CPD Sgt. Eric Franz said in an email today, "To update your request, the records you requested are not kept in the form you requested them in. We however feel that you and the public deserve to know/see how we conduct ourselves in this regard and are creating records to fulfill your request. This however is taking some time due to the impact COVID has had on our Records Section and the units that are providing information."

The committee unanimously voted to try to gather input from CPD and City Manager Muething before addressing no-knock warrants again in two weeks.

No-Knock Warrant Changes by Jolene Almendarez

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