Monday’s meeting of the Kentucky Attorney General’s Search Warrant Task Force included a recommendation for police departments to adopt a “search warrant tool kit.” The group heard how proper procedures and training can improve the safety and effectiveness of serving warrants.
Lexington Police Detective Elizabeth Thomas outlined the work of the task force’s serving committee, which spent months listening to ideas on how officers can execute search warrants more safely. Their work began in the spring after Attorney General Daniel Cameron formed the group in response to calls for reform and Senate Bill 4, a KLC initiative legislators passed in the 2021 session that limits the use of warrants that authorize entry without notice.
“Training is obviously very important,” Thomas said as she began her presentation. “It’s something that needs to start for law enforcement officers right off the bat in the police academy, but we also want to emphasize that it is continued throughout their career, probably as an annual or biannual option.”
The committee called for more discussion on whether the Department of Criminal Justice Training (DOCJT) or another entity should provide that training.
Thomas urged police departments to have written general orders on search warrants. She stressed that officers serving warrants should understand the goal, attempt a thorough and legal search, respect the constitutional rights of all parties, limit the level of intrusion experienced by all involved, provide safety for everyone, and establish a record of the serving process.
Thomas also laid out the search warrant tool kit, a three-phase plan involving a threat assessment, pre-execution briefing, and after-action review.
She explained that the threat assessment would be a physical document written by a supervisor days before the search. The assessment would help police determine whether to execute the warrant and identify the case officers. A suspect assessment would include previous criminal charges, weapons use, and drug and mental health history. Supervisors would also assess the search site, including physical geographic attributes, whether children or disabled individuals are on-site, and if the suspect had cameras in place to identify approaching officers.
Thomas described the second tool as a pre-execution briefing that includes a checklist for detectives and officers at the scene. An officer assigned to the location for several hours before serving the warrant would serve as an “eye” to update anyone seen coming and going from the site. Officers executing the warrant would receive a photo and briefing of the target suspect and location, a route to the address, and a list of officers involved.
The after-action review would include reviewing events that took place, what those involved could have done better, and what to replicate in the future.
The task force will continue to refine its suggestions and hold its final meeting on December 9 to provide recommendations to the General Assembly before the 2022 Regular Session begins on January 4. Elizabethtown Mayor Jeff Gregory serves on the committee as the KLC representative for cities.