Advocates of Kansas House legislation imposing a prohibition on no-knock search warrants by law enforcement officers Monday triggered indignation and rebukes from legislators with professional experience as investigators, attorneys and judges in Kansas.
Rep. Brett Fairchild, a St. John Republican, joined with Republican and Democratic peers in the House to seek support for the bill endorsed by representatives of the Libertarian Party and the ACLU of Kansas. It would require officers to be in uniform and to announce their presence before breaking down doors of a residence in a quest for suspects or evidence. A collection of law enforcement organizations testified against House Bill 2133.
“I believe that no-knock warrants have caused harm to both civilians and police officers and have caused more harm than good, and I believe that my bill is at least a first step in attempting to solve this problem,” Fairchild said.
McPherson Police Chief Mikel Golden, representing the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police, told the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee the legislation was unnecessary. No-knock warrants for high-risk suspects were rare and didn’t give officers a license to be reckless, he said. This type of warrant did enable officers to get inside a residence swiftly and improve odds of avoiding the threat of violence at home entrances, he said.
“Officers will be announcing “police department, search warrant” as they go through the residence,” Golden said. “They just do not have to sit in the fatal funnel at the door for 10 seconds or more announcing “police department, search warrant,” when the reasonable response would be to get in the residence as quickly as possible to protect lives and property.”
Line of questioning
Among members of the House committee, Garden City GOP Rep. John Wheeler’s aggressive questioning of ACLU of Kansas representative Aileen Berquist prompted the committee’s chairman to briefly intervene.
Berquist listed a half-dozen ideas for improving the proposed bill, including prohibiting servicing of warrants to 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and banning use of flash-bang devices that disorient people. She suggested addition of provisions holding officers accountable for violations of the search warrant law. She said no-knock warrants were an indication some people valued the preservation of evidence over human life.
“I will tell you upfront, I don’t agree,” said Wheeler, a former Finney County prosecutor. “I want to ask you if you recognize that there are very evil people in the world. Not everybody is innocent. They may be evil. You recognize that?
“Yes, sir, as someone who has had family members murdered, I do recognize that,” Berquist said.
“I hate that,” Wheeler replied. “Now, I am sure that you’re aware that multiple bullets can be fired through a door at no time at all and it happens frequently. You aware of that? Also, are you aware that a no-knock warrant cannot be issued without a review of the judge?”
“I am, and yet we still see instances where things go wrong,” Berquist said.
“So, maybe we need to do away with judges, in your eye, as well,” Wheeler said.
“Representative?” said Rep. Stephen Owens, a Hesston Republican and chairman of the House corrections committee.
“I know it’s argumentative, but it’s also a fact. Answer?” Wheeler said.
Matt Clark, a representative of the Libertarian Party of Kansas, said search warrants executed on dwellings without knocking and absent continuous announcement of the presence of law enforcement officers exacerbated the danger of injury or death. Lack of easily recognizable uniforms enhanced potential of a violent encounter, he said.
He said the majority of Kansas legislators respected the right of people to bear arms. Every member of the committee who owns a firearm has likely considered the potential of a home invasion, he said.
“How will I protect my family and myself when the door or window gets kicked in in the middle of the night? If you do not hear someone yelling, ‘Police. Police,” over and over, you are going to take steps necessary to protect your dwelling. I would, you would and most of Kansas would,” Clark said.
He said no-knock search warrants had no place in Kansas, because they defied the proper relationship between a free people and their government.
Rep. Eric Smith, a Burlington Republican and deputy sheriff in the Coffey County Sheriff’s Office, said he’d served a number of no-knock warrants during his career. The work in Coffey County has been done by a special response team formed after one of his friends, Greenwood County Sheriff Matt Samuels, was shot and killed while serving a search warrant in 2005.
“I don’t have to pretend what it looks like to go in on a no-knock search warrant,” Smith said.
He said Coffey County law enforcement organized the special response team in wake of Samuels’ death. He said some people skeptical of the additional unit “looked at us as cowboys just looking for a way to kick doors and violate peoples’ rights.”
“I’m explaining this to you not as a punishment,” he said to Clark. “What I would ask is that some of these ideas actually be explored by going to your local law enforcement agency.”