Alabama's largest city embraces police reform, moves to ban 'no knock' search warrants
Earlier this week, Birmingham Mayor Randall L. Woodfin, announced significant revisions to the Birmingham Police Department’s search warrant application and service policy. The changes include the addition of language stating that the department “does not authorize 'No-Knock' search warrants.”
The policy was designed to centralize search warrants and create a process to ensure those who secure the warrant provide the input needed for those who serve the warrant.
“This new process protects citizens and it protects police,” Mayor Woodfin said. “We are committed to taking the appropriate next steps to avoid a tragedy—like the Breonna Taylor case in Louisville—from taking place in Birmingham.”
Taylor, a Black medical worker, was fatally shot by Louisville, Ky. police during a botched search warrant in March 2020. Her death prompted national calls to review policing and public safety practices.
Birmingham's new policy, which will be implemented within the next week, requires a risk assessment before serving a warrant. It also disallows the use of certain devices such as “flash bangs” unless the risk assessment specifies their use or otherwise extreme circumstances call for such deployment. The policy also calls for a debriefing report involving all personnel involved within 48 hours of warrant service.
Mayor Woodfin was joined by police chief Patrick Smith and Thomas Beavers, senior pastor of The Star Church, to announce the revisions.
“This has been an ongoing evolution of updating policy and procedure,” Chief Smith said. “We are going to work to reevaluate all of our policy to make sure we are implementing best practices in law enforcement while keeping the community safe and our officers safe.”
Beavers, who is part of a group of faith leaders who have met regularly with Chief Smith about policing policies, praised the announcement. “I have had the opportunity with various churches from throughout Birmingham to have a series of meetings with the police chief over the last six-or-seven months concerning police reform,” Beavers said. “We understand the power and historical capital we have in Birmingham in order to bring change especially in police reform.”
The announcement is the latest in a series of steps to reimagine public safety in the city. A public safety task force established by the mayor in July 2020 provided a series of recommendations related to policing. Part of those recommendations included a review and revision of the police department’s policies and procedures.