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Experts call for end to police dog deployment amid patterns of brutal, unnecessary attacks

"We are allowing what I consider to be an inherently dehumanizing use of force. There's just no way to fix it."

Experts call for end to police dog deployment amid patterns of brutal, unnecessary attacks
Representative Cover Image Source: Getty Images/youngvet

Contrary to the public's fluctuating — and at present sparse — trust in law enforcement, police dogs have long been subjects of public sympathy and adoration. However, the four-legged cops also seem to be slowly falling from grace now as experts and civil rights activists are calling for an end to police dog deployment in light of patterns of brutal and unnecessary attacks. According to Christy Lopez, a law professor who investigated police departments in her role with the US Department of Justice under President Barack Obama, the cutesy public image of police K-9s masks a broken system that is beyond repair.


"It's such a metaphor for the way we whitewash policing. It's as if we're gaslighting ourselves. Why are we wilfully ignoring that we pay our police department to buy and train... dogs to attack humans?" Lopez told VICE. "We do not count either the cost or the benefit, and we do not listen to people who have been harmed. We believe these Instagram accounts of these cute dogs, and so we have a grossly upside-down sense of the costs and benefits of these K-9s." In her investigation, she added, she found that police K-9s are "grossly, disproportionately" used against people of color, often attack people who have committed minor crimes, and inflict lifelong psychological and physical injuries.


This was made clear by an extensive investigation led by the Marshall Project last year where when over 150 incidents of police K-9 bites were examined, almost none of the victims were found to have been armed. While most of them were suspected of low-level, non-violent crimes, some were innocent bystanders. Civil rights attorney DeWitt Lacy, who has represented more than a dozen victims of police dog bites, cited what happened to a woman he's currently representing, Laureen Frausto.


According to a lawsuit Lacy filed, Frausto was sleeping in an abandoned West Covina, California, post office two years ago when she woke up to a police dog mauling her arm. The canine allegedly dragged the woman over 40 feet before officers slung her mangled arm behind her back to cuff her. The suit claims Frausto underwent four surgeries, lost function in her left arm and hand, was left with permanent deformities, "extreme psychological distress," and a paralyzing fear of dogs and police as a result of this traumatizing incident. "That's a circumstance where, in my mind, they give the dog a reward for searching—'Here, I'll let you have a chew toy,'" said Lacy.


"And that's despicable because no one should be treated like that. But these things happen with such frequency, especially with homeless persons, that at some point we have to ask why," Lacy continued. "I couldn't sit there and watch a dog chomp on somebody's arm for 3 minutes and not be very, very disturbed by it. But some of these officers can." Meanwhile, Minneapolis-based civil trial lawyer Katie Bennett says that police dogs are often unable to differentiate between criminals and civilians. "Basically (the dogs) are indiscriminate weapons," Bennett said. "They're not telling the difference between suspects and someone taking the trash out."


Evidence also suggests that the irrefutably racist past of police K-9s in the US is still alive today. A 2019 Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine study found that of the 33,000 emergency room visits due to police K-9 bites in the US between 2005 and 2013, an overwhelming number were Black men. However, Bob Eden — who has 40 years of dog training experience and worked for decades as a K-9 handler — claims that the problem lies in unregulated and inadequate training and not the dogs. He also believes that a handful of negative incidents are responsible for giving police dogs a bad reputation.


Meanwhile, Darryl Davies — a criminologist and Carleton University professor — is of the opinion that while K-9s play an important role in policing, they should only be deployed when "absolutely necessary." Although Davies suggests that an officer should be held accountable by law if their dog viciously attacks someone, past incidents have shown that acknowledged officers are rarely held accountable for violent actions. Lopez, who tried to figure out a solution to this problem for decades, now believes that there is none. "We are allowing what I consider to be an inherently dehumanizing use of force," Lopez said. "There's just no way to fix it. There's not even a reason we would want to fix this. This is just something that we should stop doing."

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