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San Diego Police's use of K-9s during arrests has increased

Police data shows a rise in K-9 bites from 2018. A state bill looks to prohibit the use of K-9s during arrests.
Credit: San Diego Sheriff's Dept.

SAN DIEGO — San Diego police officers use police dogs during arrests according to city data obtained by CBS 8. Since 2018, the K-9s have been released more frequently on Hispanic and Black suspects than their white peers. 

City data shows that San Diego Police use of police dogs during arrests has climbed substantially since 2018, from 24 K-9 attacks in 2018 to a five-and-a-half-year high of 44 attacks in 2021.

Last year, the data shows the number dropped slightly compared to the high in 2021.

The use of police dogs as an aid during arrests and apprehensions has been criticized across the nation as well as in California. 

Over the course of several years, San Diego Police have faced lawsuits over the use of K-9s during police encounters. In one instance, the city paid $385,000 to one man who was bitten by a police dog. 

More recently, first reported by CBS 8, the city paid $600,000 to a woman after a police K-9 jumped the fence and tried to attack the woman's young daughter on a trampoline. 

RELATED: Mother bitten by a San Diego Police K9 that got loose to get $600,000 from city

In May of this year, two state assembly members introduced a bill that addressed what they believed was a practice steeped in racism and a dehumanizing approach to policing.

That bill, according to a staffer for one of the bill's authors, Assemblymember Dr. Corey Jackson (D-Perris) has since been placed on hold and will be amended sometime in the coming months.

In its original form, Assembly Bill 742 looked to end the use of K-9s during arrests and instead, only allow police to use dogs when a person is believed to have committed a felony resulting in great bodily injury or death. The bill would prohibit K-9s to be used in any instance where officers or members of the public are perceived to be in serious danger of bodily injury. 

"The use of police canines has been a mainstay in this country’s dehumanizing, cruel, and violent abuse of Black Americans and people of color for centuries. First used by slave catchers, police canines are a violent carryover from America’s dark past," reads a portion of the bill. "In recent decades, they have been used in brutal attempts to quell the Civil Rights Movement, the LA Race Riots, and in response to Black Lives Matter protests. The use of police canines makes people fear and further distrust the police, resulting in less safety and security for all, especially for communities of color."

Assemblymember Jackson told CBS 8 that while he agrees that police K-9s are a key resource in law enforcement, they have at times been misused and as is the case in San Diego and elsewhere, have been used at a disproportionately higher rate on people of color.

Data analyzed by CBS 8 shows that Black and Hispanics have a higher rate of police bites than white and Asian people during arrests.

That inequity, says Assemblymember Jackson, is one of the main reasons for his bill.

"The San Diego Police Department's K-9 units have seen a spike in incidents since 2019, there is a concerning pattern of K-9s being used against people of color at a higher rate," said Dr. Jackson. 

"Let me be clear: Police K-9s are indeed valuable tools for law enforcement, but when not used correctly, they can be dangerous and even deadly to our communities. This is precisely why I introduced Assembly Bill 742—to create the first statewide regulations on the safe and proper use of police K-9s, implementing much-needed guidelines to ensure these tools are used responsibly, particularly when it comes to crowd control or apprehending suspects."

Added the assemblymember, "We must prioritize the safety and well-being of our citizens, ensuring that the use of police K9s is proportionate and free from any bias. Together, let's work towards building a safer and more just California for all." 

The bill, however, appears to have been put on a short leash.

On May 31, Dr. Jackson and his colleague placed AB 742 on the inactive list, according to a staffer in Jackson's Office, in order to allow for additional time to work through issues with stakeholders. 

Meanwhile, police departments, including San Diego Police, are in opposition to limiting the use of K-9s. 

A spokesperson for San Diego Police tells CBS 8 that the mere presence of K-9s can bring peaceful outcomes from what could be potentially violent situations.

"Our police service dogs are an invaluable de-escalation tool," said Lieutenant Adam Sharki in an email to CBS 8. 

Lt. Sharki said that the department looked at the K-9 division's numbers when AB 742 was first introduced and found evidence of just how effective the use of police K-9s can be.

"In our 2018-2022 evaluation of the canine unit to address AB742, 927 interventions took place where the suspect surrendered only because of the presence of a police dog. In those cases, no additional force was needed to end the incident. That's 927 incidents that officers would have needed another force option to get the suspect into custody. It's very likely that not having a police dog at those scenes would have meant officers and suspects getting hurt."

On the other hand, out of the nearly 1,100 incidents surveyed, bites during apprehensions only occurred 150 times.

"Police service dogs are only used when dealing with armed individuals or those involved in felony crimes, like armed robbery or murder. SDPD’s police service dogs have never caused the death of a suspect, despite the claims made in early drafts of AB742 that police service dogs were equivalent to deadly force."

Jared Wilson, president of the San Diego Police Officer's Association agrees.

"Police K-9s help deescalate many critical incidents without force and save lives.  The teams of police officers and dogs put their lives on the line every day and they are an integral tool in law enforcement.  In 2021 violent crime spiked over 10% from the year before.  Police K-9s were at the forefront of responding to calls of violence and protecting the community," said Wilson.

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