New Lawrence police chief bans no-knock warrants, use of chokeholds after receiving community feedback
photo by: Contributed
No-knock warrants and a controversial style of chokehold no longer will be allowed for use by Lawrence police officers, the city’s police chief announced Saturday.
Lawrence Police Chief Rich Lockhart — who took over the department in January — said he has banned both activities as part of his initial review of the department. Lockhart said he had heard from several community members who wanted the department’s written policy manual to outright ban the use of no-knock warrants and carotid artery restraint tactics, both of which have featured prominently in controversial police interactions across the country.
“This is just one way to help foster trust with the community,” Lockhart told the Journal-World.
Banning the tactics is not expected to have much, if any, impact on the department’s operations, Lockhart said. In the case of no-knock warrants, he said he’s yet to find an officer in Lawrence who has executed such a warrant. As for the chokehold, he said most of the department’s officers have not been trained in that tactic, although a few of them have been.
Now, with the change in policy, they’ll be instructed not to use the tactic. The chokehold tactic garnered public attention after George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis resident, died in May 2020 after a police officer there deliberately restricted Floyd’s airway as part of an arrest. The officer, Derek Chauvin, ultimately was convicted of Floyd’s murder.
Lockhart said the newly worded policy makes it clear that such chokeholds are “not appropriate for use.” If an officer is found to have used a chokehold, Lockhart said the department would investigate the incident and take into account the specific facts of the situation.
“If someone were to use one, we would have to examine that on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “What were the circumstances? Was it an intentional act to violate the policy? Was it just a case where an officer reverted to training and wasn’t aware? Or was an officer fighting for his life and did something to try to make sure he goes home safely?”
Lockhart said a key determinant in how to deal with any policy violation would be whether the officer had been properly trained to not use a chokehold.
“Was the officer trained properly?” Lockhart asked. “If they were trained properly and didn’t follow policy, then you look at disciplinary action to correct the behavior.”
In the matter of no-knock warrants — which is a tactic where police serve a warrant at a home or other location without announcing themselves — Lockhart said he was confident the new policy would be effective in preventing such warrants in Lawrence. That’s because the execution of a warrant involves approval by multiple people in the department, and he said the policy makes it easy to understand that a no-knock warrant is no longer an option.
“I feel like they really have become a thing of the past in policing,” Lockhart said of the no-knock warrants.
He said the warrants came into use in the 1990s when police agencies were executing far more warrants related to the drug trade. Those cases often involved executing a warrant at a home where the drug suspects were heavily armed, and also often used sophisticated barricades to prevent police from easily entering a home.
Such cases are less common in today’s police work, he said. Plus, more thought has been given about how police can feasibly avoid those situations.
“We can always take people into custody away from their house, and then we can serve a search warrant when people aren’t in the house,” Lockhart said.
The topic of no-knock warrants came to the fore after Breonna Taylor, a 26-year old Black Louisville, Kentucky, woman was shot multiple times in March 2020 after being roused from sleep by police at her door during a drug raid. No drugs were found at her home.
“Certainly Louisville with Breonna Taylor, that is another situation where it was an ill-planned search warrant, and it was something that certainly would not be consistent with our values here,” Lockhart said.
No-knock warrants, however, have been defended by others as a tactic that is sometimes necessary to protect law enforcement officers who may be entering a dangerous situation. But Lockhart said in his six years as police chief in Warrensburg, Missouri, the department did not use no-knock warrants and had developed ways to safely execute warrants.
“For search warrants, what we have to balance is the safety of the officers and the safety of the people inside the house,” he said.
Lockhart said the no-knock warrants and the chokehold tactics were two of the more frequently mentioned topics in conversations he’s had with various community groups. He said he’s met with representatives of groups including the local branch of the NAACP, the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods, the business community, education leaders and others.
He said the department has made a few other policy changes based on feedback, including a change in wording to highlight de-escalation techniques in the department’s use-of-force policy, which he said was a recommendation from local NAACP leaders.The department also added language about the the department “holding in high regard the value of human life and the dignity of all persons.”
Lockhart said his community outreach will continue. He said he expects to have important discussions with the Community Police Review Board soon. Some members of that group have been critical of how little oversight authority the board actually has on police matters.