A proposed bill making its way through the California Assembly would ban the use of police k9s for arrests and crowd control in the Golden State.
Two lawmakers introduced the measure which they say will “end a deeply racialized and harmful practice that has been a mainstay in America’s history of racial bias and violence against Black Americans and people of color.” You can read more about Assembly Bill 742 here.
Absolutely, any use which would target people of color or violate anyone’s civil rights should be outlawed. However, one of the main issues they address in the language of this bill is the use of dogs in crowd control. This is a use that California (and many other states and agencies) haven’t implemented in years. As for who the dogs are deployed against, there are very strict guidelines as to what situations allow a k9 to be used. For a better rundown than I can provide, you should check out the Police K9 Radio breakdown of the subject here.
A dog is a known force multiplier for a department and often helps to deescalate a situation simply because someone resisting arrest or trying to hide will decide they would rather not get bit. On the detection side, a dog can literally sniff out drugs and contraband that would be impossible to find in any other way. They can locate hiding suspects or lost people much faster and in a safer manner for everyone involved.
Misuse of dogs by sending them in questionable situations or allowing bites that shouldn’t happen or go on too long should have serious repercussions for those involved. It’s not just the threat of mistreatment of suspects, but of the dogs themselves. Mistreatment of the dogs through either outright neglect and abuse, or by old and outdated training methods will further tarnish the reputation of any department or agency caught doing it. When these things happen they make the news and are the stories that will push public opinion against the use of dogs.
The first step to better utilize k9s is through better training. I have been involved in various aspects of training police k9s over the years and have often called for better training and education. Better selection of handlers and dogs is a must. Departments should also find a way to make K9 a career track that someone can commit to and see opportunities for development and promotion so they can keep quality officers. It will require a financial commitment to do this. Departments have to be willing to pony up the funding to send handlers or trainers to seminars and continuing education to make sure they are doing everything to ensure the best training for the dogs and best treatment for those suspects they apprehend. It is a frequent annoyance to me to see fundraisers to cover the basics for dogs while agencies increase funding for other areas.
If California limits or ends the use of police k9s, you can be sure other states will follow. Unless there is a change in the mindset of those deploying the dogs and those higher-ups making the financial decisions, using dogs at all may no longer be an option. That will be a problem for everyone.