By Gretchen Schuldt
Milwaukee's "ban" on no-knock search warrants "sent a message to its citizens that the safety of known violent criminals is more important than the innocent public," according to a state representative seeking to reverse the restrictions.
State Rep. Ron Tusler (R-Harrison) is the Assembly author of Assembly Bill 834, which would prohibit local limitations on no-knock warrants. Search warrants, under the bill, could be served as no-knocks based on an officer's "reasonable suspicion that knocking and announcing his or her presence, under the particular circumstances, would be dangerous or futile or would inhibit the effective investigation of the crime."
The bill was approved by the Assembly and is pending in the Senate.
While the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission said that it completely banned no-knock search warrants in November, it did not do so.
As WJI and the Marquette University Diederich College of Communication previously reported, no-knocks still are available for city police officers working with multi-agency task forces and it is very common for Milwaukee police officers to participate on the task forces or special units.
And suburban police investigating a drug crime that spills over into Milwaukee face no prohibition on requesting a no-knock for a Milwaukee residence unless their own communities have banned them. Milwaukee police, with permission from departmental higher-ups, may participate in no-knocks conducted by outside agencies other than task forces.
The Wisconsin Police Chiefs Association, like Tusler, submitted comments for consideration at a public hearing on the bill before the Assembly Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
"Cities around the country and here in Wisconsin have begun enacting policies that ban no-knock search warrants from being used," the Association said. "This policy change by local governments is dangerous for responding officers and citizens alike."
"Nationally, and among certain pockets of Wisconsin, no-knock search warrants have been demonized by the anti-police mob," said State Sen. Van H. Wanggaard (R-Racine), Senate author of the bill. "These opponents have willfully cast no-knocks in a bad light through misunderstanding and willful misstatements of facts."
A national anti-no-knock movement flared in early 2020 after Louisville police killed Breonna Taylor during a botched drug raid. In Milwaukee, the debate over no-knocks also was influenced by the killing of Milwaukee Police Officer Matthew Rittner in 2019. He was shot while he and other officers were trying to enter a drug suspect’s home with a battering ram while carrying out a no-knock search.
"Although it is preferable to mitigate threats that would justify a no-knock warrant, sometimes it is unavoidable to meet an immediate law enforcement objective," said Ryan Windorff, president of the Wisconsin State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police. "There has been much discussion about no-knock search warrants after recent high-profile incidents but no collective data about their use and their outcomes."
Windorff said his organization supported data collection on no-knocks.
Only the City of Milwaukee submitted testimony in opposition to the bill. No other individual testified or registered against the measure.
"This legislation is another prime example of supposed 'local control' being overridden by the Legislature," the city said. "The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission, after significant community and law enforcement input, and public discussion, voted in a public meeting on Nov. 18th to outlaw no-knock search warrants....Reversing this decision through AB834 is a move in the wrong direction and is a direct disregard of the authority and independence of Fire and Police Commissions throughout the State."
Other organizations favoring the bill were the Badger State Sheriffs' Association, the Milwaukee Police Association, and the Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association.
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