The killing of Louisville woman Breonna Taylor last spring caused no-knock warrants to come under scrutiny in cities across the country, including Cincinnati. An outright ban on the practice in the city likely won't be happening soon. But changes in how and when they’re applied could be on the way.
The Law and Public Safety Committee of Cincinnati City Council is considering a variety of new restrictions on no-knock warrants Wednesday. If passed to the full council, elected officials can opt to vote on whether to put the changes in place.
Council Member Chris Seelbach grew up in Louisville and still has family living there, so he says he was especially moved by Taylor's death. He worked with a council woman from Louisville to help write legislation for an outright ban on no-knock warrants in Cincinnati, but after collaborating with others, agrees it makes sense to instead place limits on them.
"They said, 'Well hold on a second. Maybe it's more complicated than just banning no-knock warrants. Let's really think about how warrants are served altogether.' And so we've had three or four conversations that have led to the legislation about really reforming the entire process and understanding that there are very specific and very rare circumstances where a no-knock warrants may make sense," he says.
Longtime Cincinnati Activist Iris Roley says she was also looking into no-knock warrants locally around the same time Seelbach was. She says the issue wasn't on most people's radars when it comes to police reform, particularly in the Black community. So, when she found out about Seelbach's efforts, she teamed up with him to consider changes to no-knock warrants with input from local residents and national experts.
"This is about keeping everybody safe," she says. "If my granddaughter has been kidnapped, I want every tool and resource available to get her from harm's way. And so we have to think about those situations because they do occur."
The changes being considered would allow for no-knock warrants in emergency situations, such as a kidnapping, terrorist attack or active shooter.
Among the biggest proposed changes are requiring officers to provide more information about who might be in the home during the execution of no-knock warrants, a plan of action if nobody opens the door, requires officers to be in uniforms and identify themselves as officers, and mandates that body cameras be kept on for a set time before and after the raid.
Deputy Director of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center Sasha Naiman helped craft the new ordinance.
"The goal here is to keep everyone safe, including the law enforcement officer and the bystander and the person who is accused, but certainly not convicted, of any crime. And we don't want to take tools out of law enforcement's tool bag just to prove a point, right?" she says. "This is not at all the goal here. And that was a really big part of the conversation we had with national experts and with the community."
City officials have not fulfilled a request for public records regarding no-knock warrants that was submitted by WVXU more than two months ago.
The meeting is being streamed live and can be seen on CitiCable.