Police K-9 cutbacks may increase use of deadly force - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Police K-9 cutbacks may increase use of deadly force

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SAN DIEGO, Calif. (CBS 8) - There are new concerns that proposed cuts in the San Diego Police Canine Unit may put officers' lives at risk. Experts tell News 8 the more dogs taken off the streets, the more officers will have to use deadly force.

A 40 percent cut is on the horizon for the San Diego Police Canine Unit. That means the unit would drop from 42 dogs t0 27.

Police Chief William Lansdowne says it came down to cutting canines or laying off officers.

"I'd like to have the dogs, but before I walk officers out the door I'm going to cut where I need to cut, and those are canines," Lansdowne said.

But there is growing concern that reducing the number of canines on the street may put lives at risk. In recent years, we've seen canines stabbed in the line of duty and even killed while protecting their handlers.

"The reduction of this essential force is going to increase the use of force, hand-to-hand combat and deadly force against suspects," canine expert Samantha Leach said.

Leach, who is also a pet store owner, served on the county's law enforcement review board. She says without canines, officers will be forced to use Tasers and bean bag guns that lead to greater injuries to both suspects and officers.

"It's putting the city in more liability to put these officers in this situation and be able to make quick decisions that affect people's lives," Leach said.

Because of the cutbacks, on average, two canines will now have to cover the entire city. Chief Lansdowne expects the dogs that retire will stay with their handlers.

"In most cases we see the officers willingly take those animals because they've built that partnership," Lansdowne said.

Others say these highly trained dogs should be kept and treated as assets, not given away as pets.

"These were born and bred to be service dogs. While some dogs can be integrated into family life, it's inconceivable that the majority of them can become personal pets," Leach said.

The cuts would result in 12 canine officers being put back on patrol duty, and save the city more than $500,000 over the next 18 months.

The city council has scheduled special budget hearings next week.

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