California lawmakers filed legislation this week to ban the “racist” use of police canines for arrests and crowd control, sparking some backlash from law enforcement.
Assemblyman Corey Jackson, who represents part of Riverside County, and Assemblyman Ash Kaldra, of South San Jose, introduced AB 742 Feb. 13, to end what they said was deeply racialized and harmful practice of using police dogs against Black Americans and people of color.
“If Black and Brown people are continuously being the victims of use of force, then we must make sure that any use of force is reigned in,” Jackson told The Epoch Times.
The bill also addresses the historic implications of police dogs. Canines were used to “track down my ancestors to put them back into slavery,” he said. They were also used in the 1950s and 1960s during the Civil Rights movement to “stop black people from voting and registering to vote.”
The bill allows canines to still be used for search and rescue operations, detecting bombs, and sniffing out narcotics.
Jackson cited the case of a Marine Corps veteran who was bitten by a police canine after he was mistakenly identified as a suspect by the public, and another instance of an elderly man who was bitten in his backyard and died two months later after he was also wrongly identified.
“I think people will be safer because of it,” Jackson said. “The overwhelming majority of police officers are already doing an excellent job without canines. It’s not like every officer has a police canine.”
According to the California Department of Justice’s Use of Force report (pdf), law enforcement deployed canines 77 times—or about 12 percent of the time—in 2021 and 76 arrests were made. Of those, 36 were Hispanic, 27 were White, and 13 were Black suspects.
Reaction Disputes Race Claims
Ron Cloward, a police dog trainer and president of the Western States Canine Association, disputed facts in the bill and told The Epoch Times it included a lot of false information.
“I’m just tired of people continuing to make race an issue,” Cloward said. “It’s not to me and it never has been, and it isn’t for most of the people I know. Don’t use the motivation of race to try to go after law enforcement and take another tool away.”
According to Cloward, during his career, having his police canine with him kept him from using deadly force in two situations. They help officers and if those tools are taken away, all cops would have left, he said, would be deadly force in some situations.
“I would challenge him as to how it would make the public safer if it would reduce the options law enforcement have,” he said.
Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama also spoke out against the bill this week in a rare public news conference.
“We’ve got to give our police officers the tools they need to do their job to protect the public,” he said. “Taking away tools like a canine is going to limit their effectiveness.”
Police dogs haven’t been used for crowd control in years in California, according to Balderrama.
Los Angeles-based attorney Donald Cook, who has represented clients injured by police canines for about 40 years, told The Epoch Times he agreed the legislation was needed but not for the same reasons presented by the politicians.
“It would absolutely be good,” he said. “Dogs should not be used to bite people, period. It brings a level of psychological terror that you don’t get when it’s a human being doing whatever is being done to you.”
Dogs don’t think like humans with the ability to reason or make decisions during apprehension situations, he said. Police dogs are also large and aggressive that have an instinct to bite, he said, noting cops have also been injured by dogs in some dog attack cases.
Cook also noted that in his lengthy experience litigating injury claims, police rarely use canines, because of their close bond with the animals, on dangerous suspects.
He said he is at odds with many of his colleagues and politicians, however, because he doesn’t agree that it’s a racial issue.
“Most cops are not racists. Most policing is not racially motivated,” Cook said.
The Los Angeles Police Department first started using canines in 1980, giving the department a new tool for confronting dangerous suspects.
Jackson Responds to Criticism
Assemblyman Jackson dismissed the criticism, saying anyone who says the bill is about race-baiting was clearly a white supremacist. The bill addresses law enforcement’s own data, he said, and they should focus on fixing the problem because only the data matters.
“The white supremacy in law enforcement must end,” he said. “All we’re saying is, until we find out how to solve this problem in another way, we need to get rid of the practice altogether.”
ACLU California Action and the California and Hawaii NAACP are supporting the bill, according to a press release issued by Jackson.