SAN DIEGO — Should there be laws limiting the use of police dogs in California? A new bill aims to restrict law enforcement K-9s.
Assembly Bill 742 would limit the use of police dogs for arrests, apprehensions, and crowd control across California.
Supporters of the bill said officers have a long history of targeting and brutalizing people of color with police dogs. Law enforcement departments across the state have come out against the law, saying they use dogs to prevent loss of life as a de-escalation tactic.
San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit said AB 742 is counterintuitive to de-escalation because K-9s help keep people alive.
"Everything is about de-escalation, yet this bill would remove our best tool and the only tool we can send that we can recall. If, all of a sudden, somebody becomes compliant, we can call that dog back. If you take this away, then everything goes to the wind. And now you're looking at officer injuries, officer-involved shootings, and people are going to die that don't need to," Chief Nisleit said.
"There's no data to show that.” Cephus Johnson counters. “We should live on the data, rather than sadly the police explanation of why a reform bill shouldn't be utilized." Johnson, or “Uncle Bobby X,” is Oscar Grant’s uncle and a Families United for Justice activist.
Oscar Grant was killed by Oakland Police in 2009. Events leading up to Grant's death are the basis of the 2013 film Fruitvale Station. Johnson continued, "I believe they're portraying to the public that the ask is to eliminate k9s. That's not the ask. The ask is to take your use of force tool and set some guidelines for when a dog can be released to bite."
AB 742 would prohibit the use of an unleashed police canine by law enforcement to apprehend a person, person unless the person is being pursued a felony that threatened or resulted in the death of or serious bodily injury to another person.
Chief Nisleit said SDPD is already adhering to stringent protocols for how and when K-9s are used. He adds SDPD training exceeds the minimum California POST recommendations. "Before we deploy a dog, we give K-9 warnings. Cooperate, and follow what the K-9 officer is telling you. And we only use this in very serious cases. It's a reactive tool. So, somebody has to commit a violent crime or have a violent scenario before our K-9s come.”
“We have had plenty of incidents; if not for that police K-9 officer on the scene, officers would have to shoot that person," Chief Nisleit said.
Chris Tivanian is the K-9 Lieutenant for San Diego Police Department. Tivanian continued, "The overarch of San Diego PD is being a leader in law enforcement and being progressive in working with the community, and they want to see accountability; they appreciate the efforts we make to not only meet the minimums but exceed it."
Tivanian said authors of AB 742 should consider already existing POST Requirements for K-9 units but keep in mind a blanket law might not work for all law enforcement agencies. "There should be a minimum level of training like any other force option that police officers would employ. But a very small agency with one or two dogs might not be able to meet the training requirements that a large San Diego Police Department can that has 34 dogs around the clock."
CBS 8 contacted the author of AB 742, Dr. Corey Jackson. His statement is found below:
"I firmly believe it is of utmost importance to regulate police K-9 units in the State of California properly. Incidents of excessive harm caused by police K-9s have raised significant concerns. Assembly Bill 742 aims to balance effective law enforcement practices and the safety of our communities. By establishing limitations on the use of police dogs, we can minimize unnecessary risks while maintaining public safety. Let us prioritize the well-being of all Californians, fostering trust and accountability between law enforcement and our communities.”
SDPD Chief Nisleit shared a written statement:
“The proposed California State Assembly Bill 742 is another flawed attempt by state legislators to reduce racial disparities and use of force in policing.
Since 1984, SDPD has used police K-9’s to locate and apprehend suspects in circumstances that are exceedingly dangerous for officers, such as searching in dark canyons, buildings, homes, or vehicles, where a concealed suspect maintains an advantage over officers. The K-9 affords officers time and distance to better analyze the situation and respond appropriately from a safer distance.
SDPD has an extensive selection, academy, and training program for canine handlers that exceeds California P.O.S.T. requirements. SDPD has policies and procedures outlining how and when K-9s can be used in the field and procedures for reviewing every apprehension using a K-9.
The vast majority of K-9 deployments in San Diego are for de-escalating dangerous/volatile incidents with confrontational, irrational, armed, and suicidal subjects that fail to respond to the presence and direction of uniformed officers. Handlers are required to issue K-9 warnings to suspects, and often, the warnings are repeated multiple times throughout an incident before a K-9 is released for apprehension.
Over the past five years, SDPD K-9s were used at 10,815 calls for service and accounted for 927 subjects complying with officers after just the mere presence of the K-9. In only 1% of the calls over the last five years did, the suspect ignore the K-9 warnings, refused to surrender, and, as a result, was bitten. No SDPD K-9 deployment has resulted in death or life-threatening injury.
AB 742 wrongly categorizes a police K-9 as deadly force, considering the K-9 no different than a firearm. Categorizing the K-9s in this manner is misguided and would eliminate a valuable de-escalation tool in instances where other tools may have failed, but deadly force is not warranted.
The passage of AB 742 will put officers into more dangerous situations without a de-escalation tool capable of apprehending violent suspects without using a firearm.
The unintended consequence of this piece of legislation will be an increase in officer-involved shootings, officer and suspect injury, and increased threats to community safety.
I urge our legislators to keep this tool intact for the safety of our officers and the communities they serve.”
AB 742 still has to go through California's legislative committees before becoming law.
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