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Seelbach hopes to put new restrictions on no-knock warrants in Cincinnati

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Posted at 6:54 PM, Jan 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-20 19:09:52-05

CINCINNATI — City Councilman Chris Seelbach hopes to soon pass a motion restricting how no-knock warrants — a previously little-known law enforcement tool that received national attention in 2020 — are issued in Cincinnati.

But local Fraternal Order of Police president Dan Hils and Hamilton County Judge Lisa Allen, one of the judges who signs off on such warrants when they’re approved, said Wednesday night they believe Seelbach’s concern about possible abuse is overblown.

Despite their involvement in recent controversy, Hils said, fewer than five no-knock warrants are issued in the city each year.

“We don’t have a problem,” Hils said. “We only have some seeking a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist. That, to me, sounds like the problem.”

It’s an unusual situation to begin with — City Council cannot change Cincinnati Police Department policy. Passing the motion would be symbolic; at most, it might represent council making a recommendation to City Manager Paula Boggs Muething, the person who actually has the power to make policing changes.

But Seelbach is passionate about it.

“This motion is better procedure to ensure that all parties, the suspects, the police officers, neighbors, family, friends are as safe as possible when these types of warrants are served,” he said.

No-knock warrants are exactly what they sound like: Search warrants that allow police officers to enter a specific property without knocking or announcing themselves first.

Such warrants have been a national target of scrutiny since March 13, 2020, when plainclothes Louisville officers used a no-knock warrant to forcibly enter an apartment connected to a drug investigation. Their suspects, Jamarcus Glover and Adrian Walker, didn’t live there; Glover’s ex-girlfriend, Breonna Taylor, did.

The early morning raid woke Taylor and her new boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who would later claim he believed the police were intruders. Walker fired at police; they shot back. Taylor, struck six times by police bullets, died.

Outrage over the incident fueled nationwide Black Lives Matter protests over the ensuing summer. Heavy criticism was directed at Louisville police for using a no-knock warrant late at night; Black Lives Matter protesters said the officers had created a deadly situation by breaking into Taylor’s home with weapons and no uniforms.

Seelbach’s proposed motion for Cincinnati would restrict the situations in which local police can request a no-knock warrant. If passed, such warrants would only be issued in cases involving terrorism, murder, active shooters and kidnappings.

Police officers serving them would be required to wear their uniforms and keep their body cameras turned on.

Cincinnati police Chief Eliot Isaac said he doesn’t support limiting the ways in which no-knock warrants can be used.

Allen, the Hamilton County judge, said the process for acquiring one is infrequent and already loaded with oversight.

“They are issued so very rarely,” she said, and only when the officers serving the warrant or people in the approved property are at serious risk of injury. When an officer requests one, “they’re going to have to go through supervisors, command staff, SWAT.”

City Council will return to the motion in two weeks for a vote.

Boggs Muething has not publicly indicated her opinion on the matter.