Kentucky Politics

Kentucky is creating an electronic search warrant system that allows police to request and judges to approve or deny warrants online.

The e-warrant system is being developed by research database company LexisNexis and comes amid scrutiny of search warrant processes in the wake of Breonna Taylor’s killing.

Members of Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s Search Warrant Task Force discussed the project on Thursday.

Troy Belcher, the lead developer of the e-warrant system with LexisNexis, said it will create more oversight of the search warrant process.

“Everybody looks at the history when it comes to the warrants. They want to see who created it, they wanted to see who sent it, who even looked at it. We’ll definitely have that information in there,” Belcher said.

Search warrants, especially ones that allow police to enter homes without announcing themselves, have come under fire in the wake of the Louisville police killing of Breonna Taylor while executing a search warrant in the middle of the night last year.

The LMPD detective who applied for the warrant to search Taylor’s apartment, Joshua Jaynes, lied on the warrant application. He was fired by the department this year.

An audit of the department earlier this year found problems in how officers prepare affidavits used to obtain warrants, saying “supervisory review was minimal.”

And police have repeatedly been accused of “judge shopping”—seeking out judges who are more likely to approve a warrant application—while judges’ signatures are often illegible, making it impossible to know who signed off on a warrant.

Belcher, with LexisNexis, said state officials are still trying to figure out what information will be available in the system.

“We’re still defining a little bit of that, but right out of the gate you’re going to be able to see counts by county and jurisdiction and things of that nature. We’re still in discussion for how much we’ll allow to be searched for by the group,” Belcher said.

Kentucky State Police and the Administrative Office of the Courts will have final say on what goes into the system and who has access to it.

The project is being funded with federal coronavirus relief money, which requires it to be completed by the end of the year.

Ramon McGee, an attorney and member of the Search Warrant Task Force, said the public should have access to information about warrants once they have been served.

“The idea is to be transparent and not to withhold information. It doesn’t do any good to say the only information the public can look at is the information we decide to give them,” McGee said.

“I think once you undertake to use public information to gather that information, that’s public forum, that’s fair game.”

Officials said the project would roll out in some counties at the beginning of next year.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.