Aurora becomes first Colorado city to ban “no-knock” warrants

In what appears to be a first in Colorado, elected leaders in Aurora on Monday banned no-knock raids by police — the latest effort by city leaders to grapple with law enforcement tactics that have come under scrutiny nationwide.

The City Council voted 7-3 to prohibit police from forcibly entering a property without first identifying themselves as officers of the law. The measure was brought forward by Councilwoman Angela Lawson following the death of Breonna Taylor, who was shot in March by police as she slept in her own home.

There is an ongoing dispute as to whether — and how clearly — police identified themselves before entering Taylor’s Louisville, Ky., home.

Mark Silverstein, legal director of the ACLU of Colorado, said his organization has long raised red flags about no-knock warrants and the dangers they pose to not only occupants of a targeted home but the police officers themselves.

“No-knock actions are a recipe for an armed confrontation that is going to result in serious physical injury or loss of life,” Silverstein said.

He said that type of warrant poses a particular hazard in Colorado because of the state’s 1985 Make My Day law, which allows homeowners to shoot and kill an intruder in self-defense if they believe the person intends to commit a crime and use physical force.

“If someone is kicking the door down to your house, you have the right to shoot the intruder,” Silverstein said.

But Aurora Councilman Dave Gruber, said the city is simply “piling on” a police force that has been under a microscope for the way it handled the fatal arrest last year of Elijah McClain and the protests over his death that followed.

“Our council has come up with one ordinance after another that is hostile to police and it’s having a major effect on crime in the city,” he said. “The pendulum has swung so far to one side that crime is going up and arrests are doing down.”

Data from the city shows that year-to-date through mid-September, major violent crimes such as murder, assault and sex assault are up nearly 25% over the same period in 2019. Meanwhile, arrests have plummeted 35% for the same period in 2020 versus the year before.

Gruber said city ordinances targeting police practices, coupled with the police reform bill passed by state lawmakers in June following the brutal death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, have forced officers to seriously weigh the extent to which they want to get involved in a call for service for fear of having a violent interaction expose them to civil or criminal liability.

No-knock warrants are rare and need a judge’s signature before they can be executed, Gruber said. But they are a critical tool — giving police an “element of surprise” advantage — when dealing with dangerous suspects who might reach for a weapon if they know that police are about to bust down the door, he said.

Since 2018, judges have issued 10 no-knock warrants to Aurora police, though only five were actually executed in that fashion, according to a city memo.

“We reserve no-knock warrants for extremely dangerous suspects,” said Doug Wilkinson, vice president of the Aurora Police Association. “Taking that tool away makes the world more dangerous for everybody. Without the tool, SWAT is more likely to have to confront suspects in less controlled environments, which increases the likelihood of violence.”

The Aurora Police Department has implemented a number of reforms this year following street protests over instances of police brutality across the nation, including in Colorado’s third-largest city. In June, the department banned carotid pressure holds and gave officers a duty to intervene if a colleague is violating department policy during a contact.

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