To Knock or Not to Knock

City Council says it stands against ‘no-knock’ warrants; expands private security at homeless shelters and parks

The Santa Fe City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to pass an ordinance prohibiting the fraught police tactic of using "no-knock warrants" to enter a residence unannounced.

The practice came under renewed national scrutiny this summer following the death of Breonna Taylor at the hands of police in Louisville, Kentucky. Police stormed into the young, Black EMT's apartment in the middle of the night after a judge signed off on a no-knock warrant that allowed them to enter without announcing their presence as police.

Santa Fe Deputy Police Chief Paul Joye told city councilors the findings of an internal audit show that his department has not executed a single no-knock warrant in at least 10 years and that the department supports the effort to formally ban the practice.

SFPD's own policies already prohibit officers from seeking no-knock warrants from a judge, but do not prohibit the officers from participating in no-knock warrants obtained by county, state, or federal law enforcement agencies, Joye said.

In addition to prohibiting the Santa Fe Police Department from seeking, executing, or participating in any no-knock warrant within city limits—including those obtained by other agencies—the new ordinance would supersede SFPD policies if the department ever attempted to relax its own stance on the issue in the future.

"I'm in support of this progress all the way around. It's the right move," said Police Chief Andrew Padilla, who joined the livestream after Councilor Chris Rivera questioned his absence on such an important issue.

The new policy also requires officers to have their body-worn cameras on at all times while conducting a search warrant. This applies to all officers at the scene, even those directing traffic or waiting on the sidelines to provide backup.

Finally, the ordinance requires the department to keep the data from the cameras for five years.

Councilor Joanne Vigil Coppler raised the only concern, worrying aloud that five years might not be long enough since the evidence could be required in court for a full six years in some cases.

"I just want to make sure that we don't…inadvertently destroy evidence," she said. "It only takes one to lose a case if you don't have the evidence. We've had a lot of evidence issues…I just want to make sure that we have language that's tight and that doesn't leave too much room for interpretation or error."

Mayor Alan Webber praised the ordinance as Santa Fe's next "step forward in being a leader in policing in the 21st century."

"I think this is a very good step for the city to take. I know that we are all very deeply invested in both public safety from the point of view of having our laws enforced thoroughly, and we're deeply concerned about public safety from the way those policies are enforced…" said Webber, adding that the policy contributes to "the commitment of our police department to do the right thing in the right way."

The council also approved two contracts on Wednesday that expand private security services at various city owned properties. One will increase security at eight city parks and two homeless shelters through the end of the year using CARES Act funds. The other allows the city to use its own funds to hire private security to patrol the Plaza around the clock until June 2021.

Pete's Place, one of the two shelters on the list, has been the source of strife in recent months, with neighboring residents and businesses repeatedly complaining that the shelter attracts problematic individuals who loiter along adjacent streets, using drugs and causing disturbances. At Wednesday's council meeting, Public Works Property Maintenance Manager Sam Burnett said the additional security services will allow a guard to patrol both the shelter property and the surrounding area.

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