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Buffalo's Council wants sound system for 'no-knock' police raids

Buffalo's Council wants sound system for 'no-knock' police raids

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Common Council President Darius G. Pridgen wants Buffalo police to consider a sound system to announce their presence when executing no-knock warrants to make sure occupants know who's entering.

The Common Council is working to codify Mayor Byron W. Brown’s executive order to limit the use of no-knock search warrants, but with a difference: additions aimed at protecting occupants, neighbors and police and prevent what happened in the Breonna Taylor case.

In August, Brown announced that the use of no-knock search warrants by Buffalo police will be limited to “only when there is a legitimate concern for community or officer safety." No-knock warrants allow police to enter premises without knocking or identifying themselves first.

The executive order was inspired by the killing of 26-year-old Taylor during a botched raid when Louisville police burst into her apartment in the early morning of March 13. Taylor was in bed with her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker III, who told investigators he heard banging at the door. He and Taylor then yelled to ask who was at the door but got no response. Walker, who was legally armed, fired one shot at who he believed were intruders. Officers, who had a no-knock warrant, returned fire. Walker was unharmed, but Taylor was shot multiple times and died.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said one neighbor did hear police knock and announce themselves before the raid, while other neighbors have told Taylor family attorneys that they heard no such thing, according to the Louisville Courier Journal.

Part of what the Council is exploring with the Buffalo Police Department, corporation counsel and the community is having officers use an electronic apparatus that amplifies an announcement – as well as their own voices – so that it would be loud enough for everyone to hear that police are executing a search warrant, said Pridgen. He introduced the resolution – "Breonna’s Law: No-Knock Warrants" – directing the corporation counsel to draft the legislation. The Council adopted the resolution late last month.

The technology can record the date and time it was activated and operate at a decibel level that can be heard through walls, Pridgen said.

“That way we know the decibel level that has been used and there would not be an argument for the occupants to say they didn’t hear police,” said Pridgen. He saw the equipment being used in a video on social media.

“When I saw that police in other areas were using an electronic announcement along with voice commands, it can’t be argued it was not loud enough,” Pridgen said. “Police using just their voices may be a problem.”

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Pridgen said he would like to see something similar added to the legislation or to the department’s policies. He could not immediately recall the police department using the system or find the video, but said, "I have to find it because I think it's very important technology."

“We can be one of the leaders to just make things safer for everybody,” he said. “It may be embarrassing in a neighborhood when everybody knows police are about to come in, but I hope that it keeps people alive.”

Police Capt. Jeffrey Rinaldo said he is not aware of any departments that currently use the devices and the department would have to discuss internally the prospect of officers using the devices.

Even with a sound system, there may still be disputes.

The Northglenn Police Department in Colorado reportedly shot and killed a man in 2015 in front of family members in a no-knock raid of their home. Police said they believed the man was a drug trafficker and had drugs inside the residence.

Police officers said they identified themselves loudly through a roof-mounted sound system atop a S.W.A.T. vehicle before forcing themselves into the home. However, the family maintained they did not hear the police identify themselves. The police also reported there were no drugs found in the home.

Brown's executive order does not call for a ban on no-knock raids, and neither does the Council’s resolution.

“After talking to judges, talking to the district attorney, we should not ban it in certain situations where it could be more dangerous to knock, like a hostage situation,” Pridgen said.

Under Brown's direction, when the Buffalo Police Department is the law enforcement agency responsible for executing a search warrant, it will no longer request permission for a no-knock search warrant from a judge, unless there is a clear and present danger to the safety of the community or an officer.

The department will have less control when other law enforcement agencies take the lead in an investigation.

In Taylor’s case, no drugs were found in the apartment. And last month, a Kentucky grand jury indicted one former police officer for shooting into neighboring apartments. The other officers involved in the shooting were not charged in Taylor’s death.

Brown’s directive regarding no-knock warrants is part of some sweeping changes in city policing following citizen protests in response to the May 25 killing of George Floyd, an African American man, during his arrest by police in Minneapolis for allegedly passing a counterfeit bill.

Locally, some of those changes include Buffalo police being directed to issue appearance tickets instead of arresting citizens suspected of committing nonviolent offenses and forgoing arrests and searches based on the smell of marijuana.

Read the full story by News Reporter Aaron Besecker.

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