‘No-knock warrant’ ban in US may offer solution to UK police gun deaths

Hundreds of demonstrators marched from the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn to the Brooklyn Bridge, on September 26, 2020, to call for justice for Breonna Taylor
The police killing of Breonna Taylor led to widespread protests and anger in the US - Karla Ann Cote/NurPhoto

A clampdown on “no-knock warrants” in the United States may provide a blueprint for dealing with police gun deaths in the UK.

Sir Peter Fahy, the former chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, said banning police from entering properties without first warning suspects inside was one way of “reduc[ing] the number of situations where armed officers have to intervene”.

He has called for British forces to look for ways to reduce high-tension situations involving armed officers, which can lead to officers wrongfully using their weapons and killing suspects or civilians.

No-knock warrants have caused controversy in the US and have been blamed for the deaths of several civilians and police officers, after a series of incidents in which potential suspects drew weapons because they believed their homes were being invaded in the night.

Although police shoot-outs are more common in America because both civilians and officers routinely carry weapons, some believe de-escalating the response of armed police in this way may be the key to reducing gun deaths.

Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable Sir Peter Fahy
Sir Peter Fahy wants UK police to find ways to make high-tension situations less common - Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire

Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old medical worker in Louisville, Kentucky, was killed in March 2020 by police who broke into her home during the night on a drug-dealing investigation.

After Ms Taylor’s boyfriend fired a warning shot, believing the officers were burglars, they responded with a volley of 32 bullets – six of which struck her.

The incident provoked a national outcry over police brutality, especially towards black Americans, and a debate about no-knock warrants themselves.

Ms Taylor is not the only recent example of a no-knock warrant ending in the death of an innocent civilian.

In January 2019, a man was killed by police in Houston, Texas, after officers conducted an unannounced night-time raid on his home on the grounds, later proved to be false, that he had a cache of machine guns and heroin.

After police shot his dog, Dennis Tuttle, 59, opened fire and was killed.

Houston Police later banned no-knock warrants, and in May, the Texan House of Representatives approved a new law that would restrict them at a state level.

In May 2022, Joe Biden issued an executive order reminding police departments that officers are generally expected to “knock and announce” when fulfilling a search or arrest warrant at a private residence.

In most states where the warrants have been restricted, they can still be issued with special permission from a judge in cases where the element of surprise is deemed to be necessary to prevent violence.