JKB over at GunfreeZone and Wirecutter over at Knuckledraggin My Life Away each posted an article about a woman who had her scalp removed by a police K9. Now I don’t feel sorry for that particular woman, but the comments over at Wirecutter’s took a turn into whether or not police should be using dogs for law enforcement. I found the topic to be interesting enough for its own post.
On Using Dogs as Weapons
Dogs are unreliable as weapons. They frequently bite those that they shouldn’t, and refuse to stop biting when commanded to stop. As a medic, I had two memorable wrong bites. One was a female police officer that was bitten high up on her thigh when a police K9 bit her during a foot pursuit, instead of biting the suspect that she was chasing.
The second was a guy who was fleeing a traffic stop. When his vehicle got stuck in traffic, he fled on foot. The pursuing officer released the K9, and it caught up to him a quarter of a mile later. During the several minutes that it took for the handler to arrive, the dog removed the suspect’s right but cheek. Was that a proportional use of force?
A dog can’t read the Constitution. It can’t understand the finer legal issues involved in the use of force or probable cause. All the dog knows is that if it pleases its handler, it gets a reward. It doesn’t know that if it removes a suspect’s butt cheek for nothing more than running from a cop, that this level of force is legally lethal force. The dog’s cop handler would know that, but he is sometimes blocks away. If a cop isn’t authorized to shoot someone, why should they be permitted to sic a body deforming fur missile on them?
Dogs Want Treats
Dogs are very good at reading people. They know that if they give their handler what he wants, they get a reward. If the cop wants the dog to alert on a car, the dog will alert on a car. There was one study that actually supported that, but once the study was published, cops have refused to participate in any more studies unless those studies are being performed by pro-policing organizations.
Cops don’t even keep records of how often dogs alert to drugs and then no drugs are found. The police say:
“There’s been cars that my dog’s hit on… and just because there wasn’t a product in it, doesn’t mean the dog can’t smell it,” says Gunnar Fulmer, a K9 officer with the Walla Walla Police Department. “[The drug odor] gets permeated in clothing, it gets permeated in the headliners in cars.”
The problem here is obvious- even giving the dog the benefit of the doubt, probable cause means that the search is being done because drugs are probably there. What the cop in the above quote is saying is that by alerting, the dog is indicating that drugs may have been there at some time in the past. The dog indicates the odor of drugs, but not the presence of drugs. That isn’t the same thing and shouldn’t be enough to trigger a warrantless search of someone’s property.
So in short, I think that dogs should not be used to attack people or manufacture probable cause. I would be OK with them being used in bomb or cadaver detection (as long as they don’t trigger warrantless probable cause searches of people’s property) and in tracking people, rescue work, and searching for missing people or bodies. K9’s have been misused and abusing people’s rights for too long.
Don Curton · March 3, 2022 at 9:41 am
Another interesting question. If I intend to surrender but the police dog attacks, sheer instinct will drive me to defend myself (from having a butt check chewed off!). But any action against the dog is considered an assault on a police officer and I can be charged for it. That’s a classic catch-22.
On the other hand, there’s been several high profile police shootings in which, in addition to wounding/killing the suspect, the po-po also shot the police dog too. Killing it. I don’t recall seeing any negative fall-out for the cops shooting a cop (as the dog is considered if “I” shoot it).
And not to mention the numerous times the K9 officer left the K9 in the K9 marked SUV cop car where it subsequently died of heat stroke. And again, no manslaughter charges against the officer either.
The same cops who lose their AR-15’s and have negligent discharges while giving a safety demonstration in a children’s classroom certainly aren’t competent enough to handle a highly trained attack dog. Give them the Barney Fife treatment – carry an empty .38 revolver with 1 round in their pocket. No armor. No SWAT gear. No military gear.
Chris Mallory · March 3, 2022 at 10:52 am
All too often dogs , like tasers, are used as nothing but implements of torture.
Dogs should not be allowed in general law enforcement.
Cadaver dogs, sure. A beagle to search for contraband at border crossings, prisons, and maybe airports. I can support that. SAR dogs, no problem. Hounds to track escaped prisoners, not an issue.
A German Shepard or what ever variant the cops love to use to sic on citizens in general society, should not be allowed.
An American should not lose their 4th Amendment rights because a trained dog sits on command.
There have been studies testing these dogs in sniffing out drugs, every study showed a failure rate of between 50 and 80%. Think about that, even without officer interference, the dogs are no more accurate than flipping a coin.
Steve S · March 3, 2022 at 11:14 am
The K9 requires constant training that I suspect most departments don’t budget for given how poorly they train officers in firearms. The lack of training alone would give a defense lawyer much fodder.
greg · March 3, 2022 at 3:43 pm
Don Curtain is right. Catch 22. I too, think that dogs shouldn’t be used in pursuits of suspects. Many times the damn things just don’t know when they have subdued the suspect enough.
Will · March 3, 2022 at 4:27 pm
Bite his ass, Rover.
anonymous coward · March 3, 2022 at 6:02 pm
Not much is ever mentioned about saving yourself from a dog attack. From what I’ve read the best bet is to let the doggie have one arm in the mouth then wrap your other behind the head and push up and pull down at the same time.
Danny · March 3, 2022 at 8:45 pm
Dogs have been misused by a lot of people and LEO K9s are not excepted. Remember Mike Vick? By the way, JKB over at GFZ hates dogs so the post runs in line with his agenda. And what about the robot dogs?
I love dogs but dislike people who abuse and manipulate the animals. And so should any thinking person.
Jonathan · March 3, 2022 at 11:47 pm
As mentioned above, in many jurisdictions you can’t defend yourself against dogs because they consider them to be officers… without explaining how a dog can meet state or federal training requirements, swear an oath, etc.
I agree that they should only be used in limited circumstances and always under an officers direct control – for example, bomb sniffing at important facilities.
I’ve read before about how Beagles have done a better job at finding contraband than German Shepherds and are also less threatening.
Training is a big issue also, especially with shepherds of any kind who are hard to keep as private dogs let alone for official use – I have a friend who has owned several shepherd mixes who talks about the daily time and exercise it takes for them to be sociable and well trained. He is also a cop and will not use a dog on duty.
Chris Mallory · March 4, 2022 at 9:16 am
Well beagles are scent hunters. That is what they were bred for. I watched a show on the bedbug infestation in NYC. One of the exterminators used a beagle to sniff out the bugs.
21stCenturyCassandra · March 4, 2022 at 1:06 am
I remember back in around 2005, our young autistic daughter got out of the back yard (she was an escape artist). Long story short, we called the police and they brought a K-9 unit. Dog found her in 2 minutes in an empty, unlocked house down the street.
Elrod · March 4, 2022 at 12:46 pm
Cops won’t give up their dogs because it’s a cheap force multiplier (as if Officer Unfriendly could actually run 2 blocks….), so a statutory requirement that all deployment of police canines must be conducted on lease control not to exceed 12-15 feet would stop (most of) the physical abuse. Won’t do a thing for the auto-trained “drug alert” though.
I’d also like to see police canines re-classified as “dogs” rather than “officers.” I asked a couple cops once if the dog was officially a “police officer” how the dog was able to take, understand and comply with the sworn oath of office. Didn’t get an answer.
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