SALT LAKE CITY — A group wants to regulate when police in Utah can break down doors to execute "high-risk" warrants, and it is finding some early interest from state lawmakers.
Libertas Institute founder Connor Boyack said Monday his group is working on finding a sponsor for legislation that would likely restrict no-knock and knock-and-announce warrant services in the cases of minor offenses.
“I think the conversation needs to be treated this way: In what circumstances do we want to risk the lives of our police officers?” Boyack asked.
The Jan. 4, 2012 raid in Ogden, where one officer was killed and five others were wounded, is not the reason for the proposal, he said, but it's a “catalyst” locally for what is an ongoing discussion across the country.
“We feel that our policy, had it been in place then, would have prevented that from happening,” Boyack said. “Many innocent people are harmed as a result of these intrusions into someone’s home.”
Boyack said he is not seeking to produce “anti-cop” legislation.
“If violence is going on, then certainly we say police officers should then risk their own lives to go in and neutralize the threat,” he said. “We don’t want to tie their hands behind their backs, nor do they want their hands tied. We don’t want to do that. But we do want to clarify a distinct line in the law and say it’s not reasonable to use force in these cases.”
Boyack’s group already has the attention of several lawmakers. He said he had discussions with about a “dozen” legislators Monday, and all of them seemed to be in agreement that the issue requires more discussion.
Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, said he’d be willing to take a closer look into the matter.
“We have to look at it from both sides and say, ‘What’s best for everybody involved?’” said Perry, who also is a lieutenant with Utah Highway Patrol. “I don’t want any law enforcement officer getting injured or killed because of a mistake.”
Perry said the forced-entry warrant services have been particularly effective in drug cases, limiting the amount of time suspects can hide or discard drugs or evidence.
"I think the conversation needs to be treated this way: In what circumstances do we want to risk the lives of our police officers?"
“I believe that the law enforcement community has a right to come in and talk and share with us what their concerns are and look at the language of the bill," he said. "And if there’s something that can benefit both law enforcement and the citizen, I think that’s an outstanding compromise and a great way to go as far as our state’s concerned, as a way that we can protect and keep our officers safe and also make sure the citizens are taken care of and make sure their constitutional rights are protected as well.”
Perry said he would not be sponsoring the measure and he's skeptical that a judge would issue a no-knock warrant for a lesser misdemeanor under the current law.
Boyack said he hopes to have a sponsor for the legislation identified sometime in November.
“We strongly do feel that this is as much about protecting perpetrators as it is police officers,” he said.