To: Council Member Jeremiah Ellison
Chair, Policy and Government Oversight Committee
Council President Andrea Jenkins and Council Members
From: Paul Ostrow
Re: Legislative Actions and Oversight
Thank you for convening your critically important discussion today of no-knock warrants in the aftermath of the tragic killing of Amir Locke. I urge you to engage in this conversation with absolute transparency and a focus on effective solutions to prevent the abuse and overuse of no-knock warrants.
The high number of no-knock warrants obtained by the Minneapolis Police Department is consistent with the use of these warrants as a common or standard practice rather than a rare exception. From my own professional experience working with law enforcement, other metropolitan police departments take very seriously the fourth amendment protections from no-knock and night-time residential searches. It is widely recognized by the law enforcement community that due to the inherent dangers resulting from no-knock warrants they should only be used if absolutely necessary.
I was alarmed by statements from Interim Police Chief Amelia Huffman acknowledging that “both a no-knock and a knock warrant were obtained so the SWAT team could assess the circumstances and make the best possible decision.” The notion that law enforcement, rather than a judge, should determine whether a search is to be conducted as a “knock” or a “no-knock” is legally and constitutionally indefensible.
I would urge you to take immediate legislative action to address the overuse and abuse of no-knock warrants in Minneapolis by providing through ordinance the following procedural safeguards for the execution of any no-knock or nighttime search warrant in Minneapolis:
- Require the review and approval of any no-knock warrant by the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office prior to its submission to the Court. (This is already standard practice in other metro counties).
- Limitations on no-knock warrants to applications alleging case-specific facts establishing imminent threats of harm to law enforcement, hostages, or others. (This is already standard practice in other metro cities and counties).
- Inclusion of language in any sworn affidavit in support of the search warrant establishing compliance with the 2021 amendments to Minnesota Statutes Section 626.14. These requirements should include a detailed statement as to why a “knock” warrant is infeasible, any investigative activities that support the issuance of the “no-knock warrant” and whether even if a “no-knock” warrant is to be approved why the warrant cannot effectively be executed during daylight hours. Your ordinance should require that the “chief law enforcement officer or designee” and “other superior officer” required by statute to review the warrant application be identified in the search warrant application. That supervisory personnel should affirm on the search warrant application that the application is in compliance with state statute, city ordinance, and written police protocols.
- Prohibiting law enforcement from obtaining both a “knock” warrant and a “no-knock” warrant for the same search.
I also urge you to use your audit and oversight authority to fully investigate the use of no-knock warrants. This should include engaging the Police Conduct Oversight Committee. To ensure the PCOC has the authority and ability to engage in oversight, I encourage you to designate the membership of the PCOC as an entity “specifically authorized access” to private or confidential data as provided for in Section 13.05 Subd. 4 (b) of the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. The PCOC’s efforts to review disciplinary data and fully review the use of no-knock warrants has been needlessly delayed and compromised by your failure to designate your own oversight committee as an entity with access to this critical data.
Finally, media outlets are already investigating the extent to which any of the officers involved in the execution of the search warrant may or may not have been previously disciplined. I urge you to reconsider the City’s current legal position in MNCOGI v. City of Minneapolis. Both the City Attorney and counsel for the Minneapolis Police Officer Federation take the position that the public has no right to critically important data involving sustained violations of the MPD Code of Conduct. The use of “coaching” as a “non-disciplinary” sanction for sustained violations is motivated, at least in part, by a desire to keep secret significant disciplinary violations. This does a disservice to the public generally and also is a disservice to the good men and women of the MPD whose own reputations are unfairly tainted by this lack of transparency. If upon consultation with legal counsel, you believe state law does not allow these records to be public you should include in your legislative agenda amendments to state law providing that any sustained violations are public information. (Although previously active in this litigation as an MNCOGI Board Member I have resigned from my board position out of respect for the political independence of the board and am no longer a party to this litigation).
It is my hope that with greater transparency and public discussion will come changes that will save lives and also reduce the City’s liability moving forward.
Thank you for your service during this challenging time for our City.
Paul T. Ostrow
2239 Arthur. Street NE
Cc: Mayor Jacob Frey