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After Atlanta raid tragedy, new scrutiny of police tactics

Police are reviewing their use of 'no-knock' warrants after an octogenarian was killed after officers burst into her home.

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Kathryn Johnston, neighbors say, was scared.

Drug activity had moved down from the seedy "Bluff" neighborhood in northwest Atlanta onto her street. In the past year, she put up burglar bars and installed extra locks. At some point, she had gotten herself a gun.

But in a case that is raising increasing questions about police conduct and the use of "no-knock" warrants, the octogenarian Ms. Johnston ended up using the gun on police, rather than hood-wearing thugs. Last Tuesday, a team of police, who were conducting a "no-knock raid" in search of a drug dealer, burst into her home. Johnston opened fire. Three officers were wounded. Johnston was killed.

Raids in which heavily armed police enter suspected drug dens in an overwhelming rush have become a regular occurrence as embattled officers try to clear neighborhoods of drugs and violent crime.

But around the US, a growing list of botched raids has prompted critics to call for a rollback. And Atlanta is now added to the list of a small but growing number of cities who are scrutinizing such practices.

"The question that society has to answer is: How much risk are we willing to take in order to get violent drug dealers, knowing we're going to make mistakes and shoot innocent people?" says David Moran, associate dean of the Wayne State University Law School in Detroit.

The number of no-knock raids has increased from 3,000 in 1981 to more than 50,000 last year, according to Peter Kraska, a criminologist at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond.

Botched raids are relatively rare, but since the early 1980s, 40 bystanders have been killed, according to the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington.


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