A proposed California bill that aimed to toughen restrictions on the use of police dogs by law enforcement officers was shut down in the Assembly and will not progress.
Assembly Bill 742 sought to ban the use of dogs for arrests and crowd control unless there was an imminent threat of danger or death, while also raising the standard for releasing a dog to bite someone to the same level as that required for the use of deadly force by an officer.
The legislation would not have affected the deployment of dogs for search and rescue, drug detection and bomb detection.
Supporters of the bill argued that dogs have historically been used against Black and brown individuals.
Law enforcement officials, on the other hand, claimed that dogs help de-escalate situations, and limiting their use could result in more officer-involved shootings.
San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit, for example, called the bill “another flawed attempt by state legislators to reduce racial disparities and use of force in policing” in a statement before the vote.
According to Chief Nisleit, the bill — which classifies dogs as a deadly weapon — is “misguided and would eliminate a valuable de-escalation tool in instances where other tools may have failed, but deadly force is not warranted.”
“The unintended consequence of this piece of legislation will be an increase in officer-involved shootings, officer and suspect injury, and increased threats to community safety,” he added.
Retired Modesto Police Lieutenant Ron Cloward, president of the Western States Police Canine Association, previously echoed this point, saying the bill “makes no sense.”
Cloward added that police dogs are an essential part of non-lethal tactics that agencies use across the country.
“It’s a tool, and it’s something that, if we take it away, you’re just eliminating one more non-lethal weapon for law enforcement,” Cloward said.
Bill author Assemblymember Corey Jackson said the measure was moved to the Assembly’s inactive file and would not advance after failing to acquire the necessary votes.
The assemblyman blamed the failure in part on law enforcement agencies’ strong opposition to the bill. His office expressed the hope of working with policing agencies to reintroduce the bill next year.
In February, Jackson stated that the bill aimed to end a racially biased and harmful practice by prohibiting the use of dogs for biting. The bill was co-sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union California Action, which lauded it as a significant step towards reform.
According to a report from the California Department of Justice, injuries caused by police dogs accounted for nearly 12% of statewide use-of-force incidents in 2021 that resulted in serious injury or death. About two-thirds of those injured were Black or Latino.
However, law enforcement argued that the bill would remove an effective tool from officers, and that dogs help de-escalate incidents and thereby preventing further violence or fatalities.
Moreover, San Diego police data challenges Jackson’s view, with the department reporting that their dogs were deployed to over 10,800 calls in the last five years, which resulted in more than 900 people complying with officers and led to just one percent of suspects being bitten during that time.
No fatalities were reported. However, data on the race of those bitten was not immediately available.
The county Sheriff’s Department also expressed concern that the bill would subject the use of police dogs to the same standards as deadly force, while the California Police Chiefs Association said the legislation would “decimate” police K-9 programs.
The association added that dogs play a vital role in de-escalating situations.
“Not allowing canines except in situations as drastic as those requiring the immediate use of a firearm shows a lack of understanding of their comprehensive value and complete disregard for community safety,” said association president Chief Alex Gammelgard.