California to consider banning the use of police dogs due to racism

Democratic Assembly members proposed avoiding the use of dogs in arrests and for crowd control despite warnings from police agencies.

The California Assembly Public Safety Committee approved a bill to prohibit the use of police dogs in arrests and to control large crowds or violent groups, as this disproportionately affects the black population.

The bill introduced by Democrats Corey Jackson and Ash Kalra is intended to amend the criminal code to prevent the dogs from biting, even saying that canines can participate in search and rescue, explosives, or narcotics detection operations "that do not involve biting."

Used "by slave catchers, police canines are a violent carry-over from America’s dark past," AB742's backers say in the proposal. In addition, they claim that they have also been used in "brutal attempts" to quell the civil rights movement, the Los Angeles race riots and in response to Black Lives Matter.

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A California Department of Justice study was cited in defense of the bill. It found that black people are more than twice as likely as any other group to be "subjected to thes use of this force". However, the author of the Assembly's analysis stressed: "There currently is no statewide data on the use of police canines. No entity is charged with collecting information that would help contextualize existing practices."

"Proven, effective, and less lethal force option"

Although the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has come out in favor of banning the use of dogs in the control of large or violent groups, they said they oppose the law because it would eliminate a tool that is "proven, effective, and a less lethal force option." In addition, they argued that the use of dogs increases officer safety because the attacker "would not have a human law enforcement officer as its first target."

"California in 2023 is not Selma, Alabama, in 1964," noted the Redondo Beach Police Officer´s Association. They also added that "removing a de-escalation tool from officers' options does not remove alleged racially biased policing," explaining:

The suspect's race and gender are not factors in the decision to deploy or use a police canine. The factors used are the type of crime, the potential for violence, and whether the offender is armed, among other non-race related factors.

Palm Springs, Calif. Police Chief Andrew Mills joined in the criticism. Last Monday he sent a letter to Assembly Member Jones-Sawyer, in which he argues that officers prefer to use dogs than have to resort to the use of force:

Our canines have taken on knives, blunt instruments, and firearms. Unfortunately, one of our canines, Ike, was killed protecting our community. Please stop this well-intended but naive bill in committee.

The measure is now before the Approvals Committee. If approved there, it will be voted on in the Assembly and Senate. The final step would be the signature of Governor Gavin Newson, which, according to Fox News, would make California the first state to adopt such restrictions.