In the field of law enforcement and the citizenry as a whole, no-knock-warrants have produced a heavy amount of controversy, anger, confusion, and a lack of answers — even from the legal system.
On the heels of a recent decision from the Killeen City Council to ban no-knock warrants conducted by Killeen Police Department, the issue appeared on the June 15 agenda of the Harker Heights City Council.
Harker Heights Police Chief Phil Gadd, a 45-year career veteran in law enforcement, thought that one way to open up the discussion Tuesday was to explain no-knock-warrants and decisions that have been made concerning the issue in the Harker Heights Police Department.
Gadd is sold on the idea that additional evidence gathered through a no-knock warrant is a plus, but it’s not always necessary.
“What is important is the research done before ever obtaining a warrant and identifying the players, criminal histories, possible threats of violence to police and the public and other background information,” he said.
“One thing that sets us apart from other cities is that our search warrants are presented to a district judge and not a city judge. These are elected officials who are not associated with the HHPD or the City of Harker Heights and in all situations are licensed attorneys,” Gadd said.
“That judge determines whether or not a no-knock warrant can be served, with input from our investigators. We already had this practice in place while legislators were debating the issue at the end of the last session,” said Gadd.
During Gadd’s presentation, Councilmember Lynda Nash asked him, “In your professional opinion, you don’t believe there is any reason for HHPD officers to use a no-knock warrant, except in rare cases?”
Gadd said, “You are correct, because our main focus is the protection of our officers and the safety of residents.”
According to Gadd, “When executing a search warrant, officers are wearing clothing that clearly identifies them as law enforcement personnel. The use of “knock and announce” is when law enforcement personnel move into position and prepare for their assignments. Marked police cruisers are standing nearby with officers in patrol uniforms.”
Upon the execution of a warrant, officers at the entry point then knock and announce who they are and that they have a warrant. If no one responds after an appropriate amount of time, then officers will conduct a breach of the structure.
As officers enter these structures, they’ve been trained to yell, “Police. ... Search warrant!” Lights atop police cruisers are activated and in some cases, the police vehicle public address system, sirens and or airhorns may be used.
The difference between “knock and announce” and the “no-knock” warrant is the waiting for a short time after the knock before officers breach and then announce before they step into the structure. Upon the breach, officers announce themselves before entering and as they enter are again yelling “Police. … Search warrant!”
Gadd, in more than four decades of police work, recalls participating in just two “no-knock” situations — a potential hostage situation and the other explosive material.
Currently, federal, state and county law enforcement may use “no-knock” warrants even if municipalities restrict it. What concerns Gadd is that if a municipality restricts “no-knock” warrants, local departments might not be informed about other warrants being served in their cities.
Gadd said, “The relationship between all law enforcement agencies is key. No-knock is still a valuable tool but can only be used judiciously, and I think we’ve demonstrated its success here in Harker Heights through our performance.”
The City of Killeen has announced that KPD officers can no longer use “no-knock warrants.”
Harker Heights Mayor Spencer Smith said at Tuesday’s meeting, “The City of Killeen has voted that they would not allow their police officers to do “no-knocks” but it would be good if they could participate in a task force.”
Gadd has spoken with KPD Chief Charles F. Kimble and learned that because of the changes in their policy they cannot participate in any “no knock” warrant services.
“That’s a concern to me because they are our closest law enforcement neighbors and we’re having to reach out to other agencies for help,” Gadd said.
At the conclusion of the meeting, all the councilmembers expressed their appreciation to Chief Gadd and HHPD for a job well done and collectively shared their support of the “knock and announce, and “no-knock” methods.