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Editorial: No-knock needs review

Salisbury City Council may soon receive petitions asking the council to suspend the use of no-knock search warrants by city police. The petitioning group — Women for Community Justice — is bringing to the forefront important issues that deserve the council’s attention. Considering all the questions that have arisen about police tactics in Salisbury, Charlotte and other locations, a statewide review of law enforcement tactics is in order. 

The no-knock debate comes in the wake of a police raid gone south — the Nov. 3 death of Ferguson Laurent Jr. after police burst into his home and gunfire ensued. Police say Laurent shot first. Officers shot back and killed Laurent.

The usual knock-and-announce requirement for search warrants can be waived if police convince a judge that they need the element of surprise to avoid  violence to officers or to prevent the destruction of evidence. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld law enforcement’s use of no-knock warrants at least twice.

No-knock is a tactic intended for use only in extreme cases, but civil libertarians argue — and statistics suggest — that they have become much more common than that. A USA Today report said the number of no-knock warrants issued in the country went from 2,000-3,000 in the mid-1980s to 70,000-80,000 in 2010.

Laurent’s death and the petition from the Women for Justice should put a chill on the use of no-knock warrants in Rowan County. That’s not enough, though. While law enforcement experts are the ones to give advice on police tactics in fighting violent crime, if a broad review finds no-knock warrants are being used with little justification, it’s time to call the practice to a stop.

Ideally, representatives from law enforcement, the judiciary, civil rights groups and other citizens would come together to study and publicly air a host of related issues — warrants, use of force, respect for the law and bridging the gap between law enforcement and communities. Police and the courts are on the side of law-abiding citizens; how can they protect or restore the public’s trust?

Unfortunately, a state of fear has come over corners of our nation. People are afraid of terrorists, both homegrown and from abroad. Neighborhoods hear gunshots and worry about getting caught in the crossfire. And some people fear the very people who are here to protect us — the police — even as police look over their shoulders for signs of an ambush.

There’s good news: The Wall Street Journal reported recently that six cities in a U.S. Justice Department program to build better police-community ties is producing positive results. Whether that push will continue once our Washington leadership changes in January remains to be seen. We should be able to get tough on crime — tougher, that is — without abandoning initiatives that work.

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