San Diego’s Sharp Spike in Police Dog Usage Raises Questions About Policies

The San Diego Union Tribune reports that there has been a sharp spike in the use of police dogs in San Diego, and this has raised questions about how and when officers call on the dogs to quell dangerous situations. Police officials say canine units help de-escalate situations and prevent the elevated use of force, but some recent high-profile biting incidents have prompted complaints from community members, lawsuits for excessive force, and a large city settlement.

Specifically the number of suspects bitten per year has risen sharply from 15 in 2013 to 86 in 2016. The number of times officers deployed a canine increased from 1,778 to 3,222 over that time. This increase in usage of canines has occured despite an overall decrease in crime and drop in emergency responses by the Police Department. The police department claims that there has been a continued rise in the number of dog bite incidents involving suspects with mental illness and suspects who have been using drugs or alcohol.

Additionally, the number of canine units slowly increased from the initial 14 in 1984 up to 20 in 1990, and then has more than doubled to 44 units in 1991.

Last July, a YouTube video went viral of a man being bitten while handcuffed. It is predicted that a lawsuit will be likely. Last December, the city of San Diego paid out $385,000 after a dog bite left one man’s leg badly damaged.

Last year, Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman ordered a review of canine policies and training to include more role-playing activities and emotional intelligence components. However, there are currently no plans to shift away from having police physically remove dogs from suspects during a biting incident.

When are Police Dogs Considered Excessive Force?

There are still limits to the injuries police dogs may inflict in the course of their duties.  California has fairly strict liability laws for dog owners, but there is an exception for police dogs in certain circumstances. For example, dog bite statutes might still apply when a dog bites an innocent bystander or witness to a crime.

The use of a dog in the course of police activity can be unreasonable when the nature and quality of the intrusion is not justified. When it is unreasonable, it can result in a 4th Amendment or 8th Amendment violation, which gives rise to civil damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

San Diego Criminal Defense and Police Brutality Lawyer

Excessive force and abuse by police is unacceptable, even by way of police dog. At the Law Offices of David M. Boertje, we understand the importance of keeping you out of jail and your right to be treated with dignity even while being detained or questioned. We will defend your constitutional rights and freedom as well as file complaints against bad-acting police on your behalf. We will work to ensure your rights through the booking process to charging, and throughout trial. If you have been charged with a crime or have had your constitutional rights violated by the police, do not hesitate to contact attorney David Boertje today.