A bill before the California Assembly might change the way police K9 units are used in the state.
Assembly Bill 742 does not intend to prevent law enforcement agencies from using dogs, but it would prohibit dogs from being used as crowd control or for capturing a suspect, said the bill’s author, Assemblymember Corey Jackson (D-Riverside).
“We are seeing when police canines are being used, they are causing more injuries than police batons and Tasers,” he said. “When we began to dissect the data, we found gross disparities with who the police dogs were being used on and the severity of the injuries we began to see.”
Almost two-thirds of people hurt or injured by K9 units are Black or Latino, Jackson said, and 12% of all serious or deadly injuries involving police use of force were injuries from a canine.
“We believe this is a commonsense and balanced approach to public safety” said Carlos Marquez, executive director of ACLU California Action. “We trusted them with this tool for the purpose of arrest and apprehension. They’ve misused it, which is why we need a state standard.”
Kalra said K9 units could still be used in drug and other searches, but law enforcement agencies claim the bill would put officers’ lives in danger.
Riverside County Sheriff Sgt. Jason Santistevan has worked alongside K9 units for more than 14 years, and he described their assistance as vital. Sheriff Chad Bianco also supports keeping K9 units in their current roles.
“In 2021, our K9 unit interacted with 699 suspects in the year. Out of that year, 693 gave up,” he said.
Santistevan added that the K9 unit’s value as a deterrent is important.
“You remove that tool, now you are forcing armed officers to go into a high-risk search area to confront the suspect that’s supposed to be dangerous,” he said.
Both sides agree that a conversation might help bridge the gap between law enforcement and those who oppose the use of force by K9 units.
“Having an understanding of where they’re coming from and understanding where we are coming from, I think that’s the best,” Santistevan said.
Jackson said he’s “more than happy to have those discussions, but the status quo is not acceptable.”
The bill as it currently stands will be in front of the Assembly’s Public Safety Committee on March 21.