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.