Bangor is looking into whether it can bar police in the city from using no-knock warrants, a tactic that police in Louisville, Kentucky, used in March when they killed Breonna Taylor during a late-night raid in her apartment.
City councilors Angela Okafor and Laura Supica on Monday asked the city’s legal team to examine how the city could ban Bangor police from entering homes without warning while state law still allows the use of such warrants.
The request came during a wide-ranging discussion Monday night on Bangor’s response to issues of racial inequity — both in the city’s schools and more broadly following several high-profile deaths across the country of Black people, including Taylor, at the hands of police. The death of George Floyd in late May sparked protests across the county and in Maine, including in Bangor.
The Bangor Police Department has only applied for a no-knock entry option while requesting an arrest or search warrant five times since 2016, according to Chief Mark Hathaway. The police department has used no-knock entries four times, he said.
“I don’t like no-knock warrants. They’re inherently dangerous,” Hathaway said.
All no-knock warrant applications have to go through several layers of approval. A supervisor in the police department, a prosecutor, a judge and, finally, a Justice of the Peace have to sign off on them.
“I do think there’s a good reason for the unannounced warrant, and I think that the safeguards and the limited instances that we use it should give all of us some assurance that we don’t misuse this provision ever,” Hathaway said.
The only time the police department uses no-knock warrants is when police believe there is a potential danger to officers, or that the suspects might be destroying evidence, the chief said.
In Taylor’s case, officers from the Louisville Metro Police Department had a “no-knock” warrant to enter her home, which was approved because police officers believed that drug dealers they were investigating had used her home to receive packages, according to the New York Times.
Louisville city officials have since banned no-knock warrants, calling the local policy prohibiting them “Breonna’s Law.”
But in Maine, Bangor could encounter a legal hurdle in passing a local policy banning no-knock warrants because state law doesn’t allow local policies that “would frustrate the purpose of any state law.”
Since the Maine Supreme Judicial Court has the authority to determine when and how no-knock warrants are issued, Bangor’s legal team is not sure if banning them on a city level would be possible.
However, City Solicitor Paul Nicklas said the city’s legal team will research whether the ban is possible before bringing it to the city council again.
In addition to no-knock warrants, city councilors on Monday also addressed the city police department’s policy governing when officers can use force. At the request of some councilors, the city’s legal team will also look into whether the city can even further limit when its policy says officers’ use of force is acceptable.
Currently, the policy says that “an officer may use only the degree of physical force they reasonably believe is necessary to bring a person or situation under control during the process of protecting the officer or other person.”
Okafor asked if the wording could be changed to say that use of force should be deemed acceptable only when absolutely necessary.
“All I’m asking is just to raise the bar a little bit higher than just ‘reasonably believes,’ because it obviously has not worked in so many places,” she said.
However, Bangor could once again find itself in conflict with state law in setting that higher standard, Nicklas said.
“It sounds like we are starting a long list of things that we need to advocate legislatively on,” City Councilor Sarah Nichols said.
City councilors on Monday also discussed school resource officers, which a number of school districts across the country, like Portland, are removing from their schools in the wake of protests against police violence.
Bangor, however, doesn’t plan to remove the two officers assigned to its schools. Those officers spend much of their time at the Bangor Regional Program, a day program that students with behavioral or mental health disabilities from 22 neighboring districts attend.