Saying the use of police dogs is based in slavery and racism, a new bill in the California Legislature would ban their use in arrests, apprehensions, and crowd control.
Local law enforcement is having none of it.
Assembly Bill 742, proposed by Corey Jackson, D-Perris (Riverside County), “aims to end a deeply racialized and harmful practice that has been a mainstay in America’s history of racial bias and violence against Black Americans and people of color” a news release promoting the bill said.
Fresno County Sheriff John Zanoni said police canines “make our community safer.”
“They are vital to the safety of officers. They’re vital to searching buildings. They’re vital to keeping our community safe because the people that these dogs are going after are people that are violent, people that have committed serious crimes and people that are not following orders or commands of law enforcement and they’re resisting law enforcement,” Zanoni said.
Jackson said he doesn’t believe the argument that canines help save lives.
“I don’t think that general statement actually helps to solve this problem. The question is, are we OK with police canines seriously injuring, lifelong injuries, given to people who have yet to be proven guilty?” Jackson said. “I don’t think it’s OK to put a canine in a position to be shot, to be killed, to be hurt as well.”
The Assemblyman, who earned high-level degrees in social work, said he did not speak to law enforcement when crafting the bill.
Law Enforcement Defends Canine Use
Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama said the proposed law “is misguided and goes too far.” He said canines are mainly used for their sense of smell. Just a bark, Balderrrama said, can lead to a peaceful surrender.
“By eliminating the use of K9s in these areas, it will reduce safety for police officers and increase the likelihood of force. With the ability to smell 10,000 times better than humans, police K9s are an invaluable asset when locating hidden suspects and providing protection to both our officers and our community,” Balderrama said in a news release.
Clovis Police Chief Curt Fleming says it would be a “huge loss” if his department could not use canines.
“It achieves safety for our officers to have those canines going to house and clear it out before officers’ lives are put at risk. And to take that tool away would be would be terrible. So I hope that doesn’t happen,” Fleming said.
Jackson agreed about the value of canines, to an extent. The proposed law would still allow police canine use for “search and rescue, explosives detection, and narcotics detection that do not involve biting.”
“I agree that they are a useful tool. They’re a useful tool for drug detection. They’re a useful tool for search and rescue. There are a whole host of things that they are very useful for. But the problem is, that they’re also very good at inflicting serious injury. And it is up to the public. It is up to their representatives in Sacramento to determine what is is the appropriate use of anything law enforcement does,” Jackson said.
Jackson said there are not uniform K-9 standards across the state.
“Police canines have roots in slavery and have been used as tools of oppression for Black, Brown, and other communities of color,” said Rick L. Callender, president of the California Hawaii NAACP, in a news release.
Jackson said that “active bias is a fact in the world.”
Fleming refutes that police dogs are used in any racist manner.
“They’re not utilized in any fashion towards any type of demographic,” Fleming said.
Jackson responded, “A status quo is not acceptable. So they can come to the table and present reasonable and balanced solutions, which I absolutely welcome. But just saying no is not acceptable.”
Breaking Down the Numbers
Jackson cited statistics from the 2021 California DOJ Use of Force report that motived the legislation — injuries caused by canines accounted for 12% of all severe injuries/deaths of civilians during police interactions. Two-thirds of those injured or killed by canines were Black or Latino, with Blacks more than twice as likely to be hurt or killed.
The report shows of the 660 use of force incidents reported by the DOJ throughout the state for 2021, 14% were caused by “K-9 contact.” Only the discharge of a firearm (42%) and “other control hold/takedown” (19%) caused more.
Of the 77 K-9 contact incidents, the DOJ report says 65% were with non-white suspects. Comparatively, of all use of force incidents, 74% were against non-white suspects. The report shows all K-9 incidents led to an injury but does not identify the severity of an injury.
The report also shows that 35% of those contacted by a K-9 were armed. The types of incidents with K-9 contact included “calls for service,” crimes in progress, pre-planned activites such as serving a warrant, and vehicle/pedestrian stops.
Assemblyman Devon Mathis, R-Porterville, “adamantly” opposes AB 742.
“Our beloved K-9 officers are vital to ensure the safety and well-being of our peace officers who leave their loved ones every day to protect and serve all of our families and communities. Our officers are the best trained in the Country and we ought to be doing everything we can to help them, rather than stealing away vital tools and resources, like our K-9 officers,” Mathis said in an email.
Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno, offered no comment.
The office of Attorney General Rob Bonta says they are aware of AB 742 and “will review it.”
The bill, introduced Tuesday, has not received a committee assignment.