Use of dogs in search & rescue, explosives detection, narcotics detection & use of leashed dogs would be unaffected
SACRAMENTO, California––A first-in-the-U.S. California state assembly bill to “prohibit the use of an unleashed police canine by law enforcement to apprehend a person, and any use of a police canine for crowd control” was introduced on February 13, 2023 by Democratic assembly member Corey A. Jackson of District 60, south of Riverside, with co-sponsor Ash Kalra of District 27, San Jose.
The bill, AB 742, would also “prohibit law enforcement agencies from authorizing any use or training of a police canine that is inconsistent with this bill.”
“Dehumanizing, cruel abuse”
AB 742, as introduced, “finds and declares the following:
“(a) The use of police canines has been a mainstay in the constant dehumanizing, cruel abuse of black Americans and people of color in this country,” and is “a carryover from a dark past that is not often discussed,” including the use of dogs by slave-catchers.
“(b) The use of police canines has serious consequences. Research on this topic found that [police] canine bites resulted in hospital visits 67.5% of the time,” AB 742 notes, “while other uses of force, including batons and tasers, resulted in hospital visits 22% of the time or less,” according to 2021 Use of Force Incident Reporting, compiled by the California Department of Justice.
Severe injuries, including to the innocent
“Research has also found cases of permanent physical disfigurement and injuries to bones, blood vessels, nerves, breasts, testicles, faces, noses, and eyes, sometimes causing blindness, as a result of [police] canine bites,” AB 742 recites.
Police dogs have in recent years killed people in other states, including Joseph Lee Pettaway, 51, of Montgomery, Alabama, on July 7, 2018, who was fatally mauled while making repairs to his mother’s home after police sent the dog into the house alone in response to a false report of a burglary in progress.
“Like a baton with spikes”
“Based on these findings,” summarizes the preamble to AB 742, “the researchers stated that canine bites should be considered a level of force immediately below deadly force. They equated a police canine bite to an officer swinging a baton with three-centimeter spikes attached.”
Adds AB 742, “(c) The use of police canines mirrors other biases in use of force by police. Per the Department of Justice Use of Force data from 2016 to 2019, inclusive, black people are 3.5 times more likely than any other group to be subjected to use of force due to police canine use, with Hispanic people being the second most likely, compared to cases involving white people at six per one million people.”
Proposed new letter of the law
For these reasons, AB 742 would amend the California penal code to include statements that,
“(a) It is the intent of the Legislature to prevent the use of police canines for the purpose of arrest, apprehension, or any form of crowd control.
“(b) A peace officer shall not use an unleashed police canine to arrest or apprehend a person.
“(c) A police canine shall not be used for crowd control at any assembly, protest, or demonstration.
“(d) A police canine shall not be used in any circumstance to bite.
“(e) A law enforcement agency shall not authorize any use or training of a police canine that is inconsistent with this section.
“(f) This section shall not be interpreted as to prevent the use of police canines by law enforcement for purposes of search and rescue, explosives detection, and narcotics detection that do not involve biting.”
Leashed dogs could still be used
AB 742, as written, would allow police to continue to use leashed dogs to help to detain and arrest suspects.
Thus AB 742 would not prevent the most commonly reported alleged police abuse of force involving police dogs, the already illegal but frequently alleged handler practice of allowing a dog to “get a bite” as a reward for cornering a suspect who tried to flee, but is no longer resisting arrest.
Of the 77 bites by police dogs reported to the California Department of Justice in 2021, 72 were to male suspects, five were to female suspects, 73 of the bitten persons were allegedly resisting arrest, and 12 (14%) suffered injuries requiring hospital treatment.
There is substantial reason to believe these numbers are far low. Other research has found much higher totals of police dog bites and resultant injuries than police agencies have voluntarily reported to the California Department of Justice.
Police dog bite data is not tracked at the federal level.
“Lifelong injuries before proven guilty”
Jackson told media that police dogs in 2021 injured 186 people California, causing injuries “with greater frequency than batons or tasers.
“Most importantly,” Jackson added, “many of these bites can create lifelong injuries. So let’s make this clear: lifelong injuries before you’re proven guilty.”
Jackson did not mention, but could have pointed out, that the severity of bites inflicted by police dogs is often grossly disproportionate to the maximum fine that law permits for the offenses charged after a suspect is apprehended.
“Police K-9s remain a gross misuse of force”
Continued Jackson, “From brutal attempts to quell the civil rights movement, Black Lives Matter protests, and their day-to-day use in law enforcement, police K-9s remain a gross misuse of force, victimizing black and brown people disproportionally. This bill marks a turning point in the fight to end this cruel and inhumane practice and build trust between the police and the communities they serve.”
AB 742 was introduced with the endorsement of the American Civil Liberties California Action project, represented by executive director Carlos Marquez III.
“The use of police canines has severe and potentially deadly consequences for bite victims, especially communities of color,” Marquez said.
“This bill sets a new standard for California”
“This bill sets a new standard for California and marks an important step in ending this inhumane practice,” Marquez opined.
“Police canines have roots in slavery and have been used as tools of oppression for black, brown, and other communities of color,” agreed California/Hawaii National Association for the Advancement of Colored People president Rick L. Callender.
“With this bill,” Callender said, “we sever ties with the terrorizing past and move towards a brighter future.”
Opposition from California Police Chiefs
But AB 742 drew immediate opposition from California Police Chiefs Association president Chris Catren.
“No one is arguing that irresponsible, criminal and negligent use of a canine is unacceptable,” Catren told Evan Symon of the California Globe. “But removing a non-lethal and highly effective law enforcement ally, which is used primarily to de-escalate and diffuse volatile scenarios, gravely hinders our police officers’ safety and ability to reduce the amount of force used in those circumstances. The fact is that canines reduce more force than they ever use,” Catren claimed, without citing any supporting data, “and banning them goes too far.”
Symon quoted a second police source, identified as “former police officer and K-9 unit member Ronald Davis,” whose specific affiliation Symon did not cite.
Going to court
Contended Davis, “This is another one of California’s absolutely insane bills. First of all, there are numerous court cases that allow these dogs to be used, especially in cases when the suspect was seen to have a gun. We have higher courts saying that police dog use of force does not violate the Fourth Amendment. So even if this passes, this is going right to court and is going to be held up from being implemented while it’s heard.”
What Davis did not mention is that there also are numerous court cases, in soaring numbers, in which police agencies are ending up having to pay substantial damages for causing severe injuries to civilians in circumstances amounting to unwarranted use of force.
Often those civilians were not even the suspects whom dogs were released to pursue.
Math does not work
Argued Davis, “For every case of a dog biting someone, there are so many more where a dog took down a dangerous suspect that could have injured officers or others.”
But how could this have occurred without the dog biting? Davis’ math does not work.
“Any K-9 officer will tell you that the dog that we’re partnered with has saved lives,” Davis continued. “I’ve seen dogs wrestle down suspects who had been holding handguns and knives. All those instances of dogs causing a bite injury to someone? Look at how many happened because the suspect had a gun or other weapon drawn, or if lives were at risk, or if they were threatening people with violence. It’s nearly all cases,” Davis contended.
“Nearly all cases” is not 52%
The California Department of Justice data shows that in truth police officers perceived a suspect was armed in only 52% of the cases in which a K-9 officer bit someone––and those cases, again, are only those that police agencies reported to the California Department of Justice.
How often are injuries inflicted by police dogs not reported?
Bay Area News Group reporters Julia Prodis Sulek and Harriet Blair Brown on December 19, 2021 disclosed that the Richmond Police Department, in Richmond, California, tried to conceal city records pertaining to police dog attacks and other police use of violence, in defiance of a 2018 law requiring that such incidents be disclosed.
Altogether, the 2018 law was been flouted by 173 California police departments, representing 84% of all California police officers, according to “analysis by a coalition of media organizations known as the California Reporting Project,” Sulek and Brown summarized.
The Richmond records “showed Richmond police used force that caused significant injuries 122 times over a six-year period,” nearly ten times more than the Richmond police department initially acknowledged, “and more than half of those were caused by police dogs,” Sulek and Brown detailed.
The four-member Richmond Police Department canine squad “violently apprehended more than 70 people” during that time, “an average of one every month,” Sulek and Brown found.
Annual total of police dog bites could reach 3,000?
Ten bites by Richmond police dogs led to hospitalizations in 2019 alone, Sulek and Brown discovered.
Only three-tenths of 1% of the California human population live in Richmond, yet if the California Department of Justice data was complete, the four Richmond Police dog handlers inflicted 13% of all the bites requiring hospitalization.
Conversely, if other police K-9 units in California inflicted as many dog bite injuries requiring hospital treatment as those in Richmond, the annual total would exceed 3,000.
Strong chance of passage
In view that Jackson and Kalra are Democrats, and Democrats hold majorities of 62-18 in the California assembly and 40-8 in the California senate, AB 742 may have a strong chance of passage.
Elected to the California state assembly for the first time in November 2022, Jackson, 41, became the first openly gay African-American to serve in the state legislature. Jackson has a background in civil rights and social work, but not in law enforcement.
Co-sponsor Ash Kalra, 50, in 2016 become the first Indian-American to serve in the California legislature. Kalra does have background in law enforcement, having spent 11 years as a , Santa Clara County public defender, before serving for eight years on the San Jose City Council.
Longtime ANIMALS 24-7 concern
Kalra, a vegan, with a strong legislative record on behalf of animals, has previously authored bills including the California Racial Justice Act of 2020, the unsuccessful Replacing Animals in Science Education Act of 2019, and a 2018 bill keeping California legislation enforcing the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 in effect despite disabling orders issued by the Donald Trump administration.
Police misuse of K-9 officers, often resulting in injuries to the dogs themselves as well as to innocent bystanders, has been of enduring concern to ANIMALS 24-7 from inception, including from Beth Clifton’s perspective as a former Miami Beach police officer during the high-crime Miami Vice era, coinciding with the Mariel boat-lift of Cuban prisoners to Miami.
(See also Police dogs should be trained as officers, not equipment; Standing Rock: Who let the dogs out?; “Animals & thugs”: horses, dogs, police & the George Floyd protests; and Police dog attacks on black children soar in Baton Rouge.)