Dane County leaders are currently weighing a resolution disavowing no-knock warrants. As its name implies, a no-knock warrant permits officers to enter someone’s home without first informing the residents.
The practice has drawn heavy criticism from civil rights advocates, police reformers and police abolitionists. It gained national attention after the killing of Breonna Taylor, who was killed one year ago by Louisville police officers executing a no-knock warrant.
Since then, chants and calls to abolish the practice have been frequent refrains during Madison’s protests against police brutality.
Yesterday, a committee of the Dane County Board of Supervisors weighed whether to request that the Dane County Sheriff stop the use of no-knock warrants. In a 4-2 decision, members of the Public Protection and Judiciary committee voted to pass along a resolution to disavow no-knock warrants — without endorsing the proposal.
The county board ultimately doesn’t have a say in ending the Sheriff’s office’s use of no-knock warrants, and whether or not to end the practice is up to Sheriff David Mahoney. But, with Mahoney’s planned resignation next month, it’s likely the final decision will fall to incoming Dane county Sheriff Kalvin Barrett.
Sheriff Mahoney argues the practice is necessary for officers who may be entering a hostile situation.
“I’ve done many no-knock search warrants and every one of them was because of the presence, first-hand, of a loaded firearm with the intent to use it against law enforcement,” Mahoney said at yesterday’s meeting.
He says that, without the use of no-knock warrants, officers may use more deadly force when executing search warrants — as Mahoney argues officers will lose the element of surprise and may be drawn into more violent confrontations.
But, County Supervisor Carousel Bayrd said that the practice is more often used to preserve evidence at a crime scene. Bayrd is the author of and lead sponsor on the resolution.
“In the example everyone knows, of the situation with Breonna Taylor, there were no weapons. Breonna Taylor didn’t own any weapons,” Bayrd said. “It turned out, her boyfriend was at the property and had a permit for a concealed carry…But in that circumstance, the only reason they got a no-knock warrant was the preservation of evidence.”
This is the second time the Public Protection and Judiciary Committee has considered this resolution. The issue was also before the committee last month, but due to a procedural mistake was re-visited during yesterday’s meeting.
The resolution now heads to the Dane County board of supervisors for deliberation
According to the Dane County sheriff’s office, deputies served 19 no-knock warrants from 2019 to 2020: eleven last year and eight in 2019. For comparison, in 2019 the Madison Police Department obtained 37 no-knock warrants, according to documents obtained last September by Forward Lookout.
Also last night, the committee unanimously approved a resolution that would eliminate nearly $150,000 in fees and debts owed by county jail inmates. The proposal was floated by Sheriff Mahoney — who said that the measure will eliminate debt for those struggling under pandemic-induced financial strain.
Said Mahoney: “As I close out 41 years of a law enforcement career, it has always been impactful on me how the criminal justice system impacts those most challenged in society; those incarcerated in the jail and the families that these individuals depend upon for support… I believe that this would be an acknowledgement of the impact of the pandemic and the acknowledgement of the individuals incarcerated depending upon their family support.”
That proposal will also head to the full county board for a vote.
(PHOTO: WORT News / Flickr)