The Kentucky Attorney General’s search warrant task force has just seven months to get a grip on the state’s sprawling system of issuing and executing search warrants and provide recommendations for possible reform.
They met for the first time Monday, nine months after Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced his intent to form the task force in the wake of Louisville police officers killing Breonna Taylor while executing a search warrant. The meeting’s light agenda consisted of introductions, a presentation on the history of search warrants and members receiving subcommittee assignments.
The group will have until the end of the year to conclude its work, Cameron said. Though the task force was announced last September, he issued an executive order formalizing the body in January, setting the course for finishing the work before the new year. Months later, as KyCIR reported that the group hadn’t met or set any plans to do so, he announced the members of the 18-member group and set the first meeting.
The task force will meet monthly throughout the year, breaking off into three subcommittees to review the ways search warrants are secured, reviewed, and executed.
“It’s very clear how important this responsibility is,” Cameron said in his opening remarks. “We will work very well together over the course of these next six or seven months.”
The group is made up largely of police, prosecutors, judges, legislators and representatives of government bodies. Introductions filled a bulk of the meeting, during which many offered a bridled enthusiasm for their task of examining the system that lacks uniformity across the state.
“There’s about 120 different ways to do it,” said Joseph Ross, the Logan County Attorney and task force member representing the Kentucky County Attorney’s Association.
The sprawling scope of search warrant systems is complicated further by the lack of any statewide or sometimes even local database where warrants can be accessed, making the collection and review a cumbersome, if not impossible, process, said Damon Preston, the state’s Public Advocate.
Preston wants to know how many warrants were sought, approved and executed, or denied. But presently “we have no way of knowing,” he said.
“I hope we can create a foundation for accessing data moving forward,” Preston said.
Investing in search warrant technology upgrades for court systems is on the radar for state Sen. Whitney Westerfield, the chair of the senate judiciary committee and a member of the task force.
“To make things more efficient and simpler,” he said.
The work of the task force will help guide legislators as they draft policy and allocate funds in the future, Westerfield said.
Police representatives on the task force offered little insight into what, if any, specific reforms they’re seeking in regards to search warrants.
Joe Monroe, the chief of the University of Kentucky Police Department and representative for the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police, said only that he’s hoping to develop a statewide model that’s fair and safe for everyone.
But any effort to impose strict uniformity across the state’s jurisdictions will likely be met with opposition.
Rob Sanders, the Kenton County Commonwealth’s Attorney, said he’s “read in the media” that some jurisdictions “need a lot more improvement than others.”
“I want to make sure that in the process of fixing one circuit we don’t manage to break another circuit,” he said.
The group has faced scrutiny for the lack of urgency in meeting and for being comprised mostly of members of the law enforcement community.
Preston, the public advocate, raised one more voice he thought was missing: the people who get searched.
“That’s the most important part of this,” Preston said. “Not just the technical parts of how you get it, but what are the real life impacts of a search warrant.”