In wake of Breonna Taylor’s death, New York pols eye search warrant reform

A protester in Manhattan holds up a sign with Breonna Taylor’s likeness in September 2020. (Photo by Lloyd Mitchell)
File photo/Lloyd Mitchell

The deadly police shooting of Louisville’s Breonna Taylor back in March has prompted New York lawmakers to make a renewed effort at reforming how law enforcement executes search warrants.

Three New York City elected officials — state Senators James Sanders Jr. of Queens and Brian Benjamin of Manhattan/Brooklyn, and Manhattan Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell — announced new legislation Thursday that would curb the use of “no-knock warrants” and further regulate how police officers conduct raids.

Among the legislation’s supporters is Tamika Palmer, Taylor’s mother, who said she’s “not the only parent who has lost a child due to this practice of breaking down doors with hopes of scoring drugs and cash.”

“These reform efforts need to continue so that no one else loses a loved one as a result of these dangerous, deadly and unnecessary practices,” Palmer said. “The lives of innocent daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers AND police officers depend upon the immediate elimination of these raids. We’re counting on legislators nationwide to act now.”

While the bill wouldn’t eliminate no-knock raids in New York altogether, it would restrict or prevent the kind of tactics that Louisville, Kentucky police officers used in conducting the raid that led to Taylor’s death early on the morning of March 13, 2020. 

Plain-clothes officers knocked on the door, then stormed into an apartment as part of a narcotics investigation; Taylor, a medical worker, was with her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, at the time. 

Walker claimed he did not hear the officers identify themselves as law enforcement, which had prompted him to think an intruder had come in. He pulled out a pistol and fired a shot that struck one of the officer’s in the leg; that prompted police officers to open fire 32 times. Walker was not hit, but Taylor was struck six times and died.

The crime prompted national outrage and protests demanding an end to police brutality and racial injustice. Those calls were compounded later in the spring following the police death of George Floyd in Minneapolis; Taylor’s name was often recited at the protests that broke out across the country. 

The protests also spurred legislators across America to rethink law enforcement and introduce new reforms, from reducing funding for police departments to changing police operations altogether. 

Along with responding to Taylor’s death, the legislation that Sanders, Benjamin and O’Donnell proposed Thursday also revives a nearly 20-year effort in New York to reform search warrant operations following the 2003 death of Harlem’s Alberta Spurill, who suffered a fatal heart attack during an NYPD raid of her home.

Sanders further cited studies that no-knock raids and warrants are disproportionally executed more often against Black and Brown people.

“Today, we are putting forth the most comprehensive, groundbreaking legislation in the nation when it comes to these police raids, which should only be used under extreme circumstances and with accountability.”

If passed, the bill would limit police departments across New York state in their use of no-knock warrants and raids to solely using such tactics with conclusive evidence that human life is in jeopardy.

In advance of acquiring such a warrant, the legislation also mandates that officers obtain in advance the age, gender and known disabilities of all occupants. All officers must be in uniform; wait 30 seconds for a response to a knock on their door; and not use any flash bang grenades in executing each raid.

Additionally, police departments would be required to make audio and video footage of each warrant execution available for independent oversight review.

“It’s hard to believe that anyone can argue that the public is well served by allowing armed officers to smash into a house out of the blue,” Benjamin said. “How can this possibly be the safest way to arrest someone? We’ve seen hundreds like Breonna Taylor killed or harmed because people decided that using these tactics was no big deal. We need to rein it in, and we need to do it now.”

Research conducted by Campaign Zero and police scholar Dr. Peter Kraska found that American police departments executed 60,000 no-knock or quick-knock raids every year, a twenty-fold jump from the 3,000 such operations conducted during the early 1980s. 

amNewYork Metro reached out to the NYPD for comment and is awaiting a response.