Area police said a 5-4 decision yesterday by the U.S. Supreme Court allowing officers with a warrant to enter homes and seize evidence without knocking first could help ensure their safety and prevent destruction of evidence.
Opponents of the decision called it an erosion of constitutional guarantees against unreasonable searches.
Toledo attorney Jeff Gamso, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio, said the ruling will encourage police misconduct by allowing evidence to be used even if police do not follow proper knocking procedure.
"It's the further evisceration of the Fourth Amendment," he said.
Ottawa County Sheriff Bob Bratton said he thought the decision was "positive, unless it's abused." He added that law enforcement officials should not consider it a "blank check."
He and other law enforcement officials emphasized in interviews with The Blade that the procedure for getting a search warrant is unchanged and there are already circumstances that allow them to conduct searches without knocking.
"It's been my experience - and it's been a long experience - we don't just randomly start walking down the street and searching homes," said Lucas County Sheriff James Telb, adding that police still have to gain court approval of a valid warrant. "We've always respected the privacy of individuals, but we also need our officers not to get hurt."
In the past, Sheriff Telb said officers have had to wait up to a minute after knocking before entering and searching a residence, which gives suspects time to destroy drugs and other evidence.
Knocking can also allow suspects time to reach for weapons and jeopardize police safety, Sheriff Telb said. He pointed out that special no-knock search warrants were already available to police - provided authorities could show a judge evidence that knocking could put officers in danger. Yesterday's ruling could make no-knock search warrants less important.
Henry Herschel, chief public defender for Lucas County, said the ruling was disappointing but didn't surprise him.
"Anything to do with search and seizure over the years has just been eroded," he said.
Oregon Police Chief Thomas Gulch and Sylvania Police Chief Gerald Sobb said they expect the ruling will have little impact on how their suburban departments operate.
"I would think in a good, strong professional organization this ruling would have no impact," Chief Gulch said. "It's not going to change our practices, I'm not going to encourage our officers to tread into that gray area" where a search could be called into question.
Nevertheless, Mr. Gamso said he thinks police will take advantage of the ruling and not knock when executing search warrants.
"The only thing that's going to convince anybody that the police don't abuse their power is for the police not to abuse their power," he said.
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