PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Changes are coming to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced Tuesday that "dynamic entry" search warrants will now require a supervisor's approval before deputies can execute the warrant. The policy change also makes using these types of search warrants a "last resort" for deputies.
This type of search warrant is usually served in drug trafficking cases, Gualtieri said. In those, deputies use force to enter a home or building without announcing their presence. The sheriff said these warrants often include deputies using tools to loudly break into a location.
The sheriff said "no-knock" warrants, which are allowed in some other states, are generally not allowed in Florida. A 1994 Florida Supreme Court ruling found no-knock warrants "without legal effect" in the state, but also detailed circumstances in which law enforcement could enter a home or building without a judge's approval or announcing their presence.
Those circumstances include if law enforcement believes a suspect could escape or destroy evidence.
State statute 933.09 allows law enforcement to break open a door or another part of a house to execute a warrant "if after due notice of the officer's authority and purpose he or she is refused admittance to said house or access."
The sheriff also mentioned a "no-knock" warrant was used in the Breonna Taylor case, when the 26-year-old EMT was shot and killed by officers in Louisville, Kentucky.
According to the sheriff, a dynamic entry search warrant does not mean it was a no-knock warrant. The dynamic entry term is used to describe deputies executing a warrant by using force to break into a location.
Deputies could "knock and announce" their presence but then use force to gain entry into a home because they heard, for example, shots fired or someone screaming. Deputies could also, for example, not "knock and announce" before doing a dynamic entry because of hearing shots fired or someone in distress when they get to the property.
Deputies are now prohibited from performing dynamic entry search warrants without prior approval from a supervisor at the sheriff's office. That supervisor or commander will assess the purpose of the warrant and the background of the person or people being served, as well as the probability or violence or other bystanders being in the home at the time of the warrant execution.
Gualtieri said the sheriff's office informally changed the dynamic entry warrant policy about eight years ago, but on Tuesday the changes were formally written and enacted.
"Dynamic entry warrants are so dangerous (because) the people inside...are always caught by surprise," Gualtieri said. "They may not immediately comprehend it's the police...instead of an intruder."
Gualtieri said dynamic entry warrants are intended to be a last resort and could be approved for arrest warrants on those accused of murder, rape or other violent crimes.
"No amount of drugs is worth anyone's life...an officer or a suspect," Gualtieri said.
The sheriff's office says this is part of the agency's efforts to "continually evaluate" its policies and "be responsive to community concerns about police practices."
Back in July, Gualtieri announced the creation of the use of deadly force task force, which would immediately change the way the sheriff's office investigates those cases. The task force is made up of homicide detectives from other agencies across Pinellas County. Before the task force was created, those cases were investigated internally.
“This is about public trust and confidence and outcomes and making sure when a determination is made that people not only know it’s the right determination but believe it’s the right determination,” Gualtieri said in regards to the task force's creation.
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