Columbus City Council held a hearing about no-knock warrants as part of their Reimagining Public Safety legislative package on Thursday.
Council members asked questions to Columbus Police officers about how often they utilize no-knock warrants, and what circumstances call for such a tactic.
“Under Ohio law, a no-knock warrant cannot be used strictly to stop the destruction of criminal evidence, i.e. drugs,” says George Speaks, deputy director of the Department of Public Safety. “Rather, under Ohio Revised Code, law enforcement must demonstrate to a court a risk of serious physical harm in order to obtain a no-knock warrant.”
Columbus Police say no-knock warrants are mostly carried out by the Investigative Tactical Unit, which is a SWAT-like team that conducts drug raids. In 2019, that unit served 331 warrants, 92 of which were no-knock. The majority of no-knock warrants that the department requested were approved, Speaks says.
“These types of no-knock warrants involve dangerous individuals and the preservation of criminal evidence that will be used to prosecute for a drug crime,” Speaks says.
The police say no suspects have been injured in no-knock warrants, but several officers have been. The most recent shooting in a no-knock warrant took place in May 2020.
During Thursday's hearing, Columbus Police confirmed that members of the Investigative Tactical Unit do not wear body cameras.
Council members and members of the community questioned the efficacy and the necessity of such warrants, which the police say are meant to surprise suspects and prevent the distruction of drug evidence.
"I would encourage a more strict requirement around not just having probable cause, but probable cause of a large quantity, a significant public threat of these drugs," said Thomas Less, a South Side area commissioner representing Marion Village. "If you're talking about a large amount of fentanyl, that's a very different thing than marijuana, and I think that needs to be recognized in how we apply this."
Columbus Council member Emmanuel Remy says a team of officers in a task force once showed up to his newly-purchased home looking for the previous owner with a no-knock warrant. His pitbull puppy ran outside and an officer reached for their gun while his children watched.
No-knock warrants came into public scrutiny following the death of Breonna Taylor, a Louisville woman who was shot and killed while she was in bed, by officers who were serving a no-knock warrant. Deputy Chief Tim Becker says Columbus Police would not have issued a no-knock warrant in Taylor's case, because the details of the case do not meet the department standards.