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City Council Takes Up Ban On 'No-Knock' Warrants, Which Officials Say Cops Don't Use

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Megan Harris
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90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Council on Tuesday introduced legislation that would ban no-knock warrants, a move that would inscribe in city law a ban on a law-enforcement tactic that local officials say the city already doesn't use.

No-knock warrants allow officers to forcibly enter a home without knocking or announcing their identity or purpose. The bill would essentially ban the practice by requiring police to knock and announce themselves before serving a warrant, then wait a minimum of 15 seconds to allow the person to respond and open the door. 

The legislation would also require that when executing a warrant, officers must wear a body camera and keep it on and recording before and after the execution of the warrant, and during any arrest or search of a person or property. Officers would also be required to be uniformed and immediately identifiable as a law enforcement officer.

The city’s Public Safety Department says it doesn’t use no-knock warrants.

“Pittsburgh Police have always followed the PA Rules of Criminal Procedure which require police to knock and announce their identity and purpose,” the department said in an emailed statement.

Councilor Ricky Burgess, one of the measure’s co-sponsors, said that it was still important to put the city on record as opposing the practice.

“We do not think that they do it regularly, but we want to make sure that they don’t do it at all,” he said. “So we want to make sure that we made a clear statement to ban this practice.”

The legislation cites Breonna Taylor, a Black 26-year-old in Louisville, who died nearly a year ago after officers burst into her home. Unaware that they were police officers, Taylor’s boyfriend shot at police, and officers responded with gunshots, some of which fatally struck Taylor. Her death was among a number of high-profile deaths at the hands of police that spawned a summer of protests. Several cities around the country have since banned the use of such warrants.

Burgess said that banning no-knock warrants protects police as well as civilians, since Pennsylvania law allows the occupant of a home to use deadly force against an intruder. 

“In the state of Pennsylvania, you have a right to defend your home if someone comes in your house,” Burgess said. “You have a right to shoot them. Well, that right, in addition to a no-knock warrant is a recipe for disaster … it can easily escalate into a tragic event for either the officer or the resident very, very quickly.”

A ban on no-knock warrants has been among the demands of those calling for police reform. Activists have been laying groundwork for a citywide referendum to ban the warrants, with the hope of putting it before voters on the May 18 primary ballot. One of the activists spearheading that effort, Brandi Fisher of the Alliance for Police Accountability, said she was “happy to see that City Council has grasped the necessity of this proposal.”

“This is a victory for the thousands of people currently circulating petitions to pass Breonna's Law, though only a first step,” Fisher said in an emailed statement. “We look forward to seeing this ordinance passed into law as written.”

Council is set to further discuss the bill next Wednesday. 

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