Canines employed by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) have been biting a lot more people in recent years, and all 17 of the victims in 2013 (through June) were black or Hispanic.
A recently released report (pdf) by the Police Assessment Resource Center found that dogs caused more injuries than the combined use of batons, tear gas, guns and other weapons. It also found that the dogs wreaked more havoc in low-income minority neighborhoods serviced by five stations over the past nine years than 21 other agencies and stations combined.
The report cites a “historically” low number of dog bites by department animals between 2004 and 2012, but it is accompanied by a historically high percentage of minority victims. Nearly 90% of the bites were of Latinos and blacks. That was higher than the 85% recorded in the 1990s.
The report’s authors acknowledged that the high number of minority bites is related to the high-crime areas the dogs are deployed in. They found the dog handlers to be, by and large, “well-trained, professional, thoughtful and dedicated.” On average, they were more “seasoned and mature” than the average patrol deputy. But it found they were too quick to use the dogs in situations where less damaging force could have got the job done.
The report’s authors were troubled by an increase in the percentage of apprehensions that involved dog bites: “Not that many years ago, the LASD canines bit fewer than 10 percent of subjects in apprehensions involving a dog. In recent years, however, canines bit nearly 30 percent of apprehensions.”
Not surprisingly, they concluded that “a much lower biter ratio is a reasonable goal.”
The report pins the rising bite ratio on bad policies that have brought about “a wholesale degradation” of use-of-force management in the jails, a situation so infamously awful that “it is not necessary to spell it out again.”
The department has been, and still is, the subject of a series of federal investigations. In September, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it was looking at a “pattern and practice of inmate” abuse with a special emphasis on how mentally ill prisoners were treated. It overlaps another FBI investigation begun in 2011 that focused on excessive force and other bad stuff by deputies.
A third investigation, into alleged department civil rights abuses in Antelope Valley communities north of L.A., was recently concluded. That two-year federal investigation found that deputies harassed minority groups on a regular basis, unlawfully detaining them, using excessive force and conducting illegal searches.