A bill to end the use of police K-9 units, also known as police units involving trained police dogs, in many criminal situations was passed by the Assembly Appropriations Committee this week, albeit in a heavily amended form and with a growing number of lawmakers opposing it.
Assembly Bill 742, authored by Assemblyman Corey Jackson (D-Moreno Valley), would specifically end the use of K-9 units for arrest, apprehension, and crowd control. As the bill has yet to be fully submitted, it is unknown what, if any, exceptions there are, such as if a K-9 unit is on an emergency call or if there are a shortage of regular units. AB 742 would not ban K-9 units entirely, as they would still be allowed for search and rescue, explosive detection, and narcotic detection that does not include the use of biting.
In addition, amendments made since the bill was introduced in February have opened the door for many exceptions. This has included changing language from, “It is the intent of the Legislature to prevent the use of police canines for the purpose of arrest, apprehension, or any form of crowd control” to, “It is the intent of the Legislature to prevent the use of police canines for any form of crowd control, or to arrest or apprehend a person except to avoid the use of deadly force or to defend against a lethal threat by the person.”
It also radically changed not using dogs to apprehend anyone under any circumstances to allowing multiple exceptions, such as tracking down those with felonies who hurt or killed others. And the bill replaced a total ban on allowing the dog to bite to granting numerous exceptions.
While Jackson authored AB 742 in response to the high number of injuries reported with police dogs, as well as the claimed historical use of K-9 units disproportionately against African-Americans and other people of color, the bill received a lot of backlash early on, especially from police groups who insisted that they needed to have dogs to help apprehend suspects.
With the bill looking dead in the water, Jackson hurriedly amended the bill.
An Amended AB 742
Despite the changes, however, many have continued to oppose the bill. This was heard in the Public Safety Committee vote in March, as well as the Appropriations vote this week in which it passed 11-4, albeit with many reservations and strong signals that the Senate would have even more lawmakers and law enforcement members come out to vote against the bill.
“I am about looking at the tools that we have, and how we can use those tools better,” said Folsom police Chief Rick Hillman in a statement on Thursday. “And seeing what’s the right thing and the right fit for our communities. And having canines in our community is a good thing. We pick dogs ensuring their temperament is right for us and our community. K-9s are essential and this bill would do more damage and more harm than good.”
Others also noted that, even with the amendments, the bill was still extremely restrictive on law enforcement and likely would come into conflict against the law.
“This has been an extremely slapdash bill, ” former police officer and K-9 unit member Ronald Davis told the Globe Friday. “The amendments help some, but this is still really working against the police from doing their jobs. Police dogs save lives and bring people to justice, and this bill just wants to pretend that doesn’t happen. Can dogs get rough? Yes, but police dogs are specially trained. They’ll take down suspects and do as little injury as possible in order to bring them into custody. Dogs are usually the last resort anyway.”
“And don’t forget that, even if this does pass, there are so many other laws around this that any court challenge will immediately invalidate this bill. Whoever thought this bill up did not do their homework and were writing this this based on feelings rather than reality. They really needed to work with law enforcement on this one to create something reasonable. But they didn’t.
AB 742 is expected to be up in the Assembly for a vote soon.
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