CA Assembly Bill 742 would restrict the use of police canines.
SACRAMENTO – Today, ACLU California Action released a new, first-of-its-kind report examining the outdated and dangerous police practice of using attack dogs to bite and maim members of the public.
“My brother David was in medical distress and sought medical help, but instead the sheriffs deployed their police dog to bite him several times,” said Chris Silva, brother of David Silva, who was killed in May 2013 after Kern County Sheriff's deputies released a police attack dog on him before beating and hogtying him. “The unanswered questions linger—why, when David was experiencing pain or trauma, were the police called to respond instead of someone with health expertise and why did the deputy release a police dog to attack David who was deep asleep?”
Based on analysis of official data, policies and public record obtained from 37 police agencies across California, “Weaponizing Dogs: The Brutal and Outdated Practice of Police Attack Dogs” finds police are using attack dogs to inflict serious injuries on people who do not pose a danger to officers or others. Moreover, the report notes police are using attack dogs specifically to bite and threaten people experiencing a behavioral health crisis. In several cases, police were unable to control their attack dogs, who regularly mauled bystanders and failed to stop attacking when recalled.
“The vast majority of Californians severely injured by police attack dogs are not armed with any weapon, according to data reported by police agencies to the CA Department of Justice,” said Carmen-Nicole Cox, director of government affairs at ACLU California Action. “The state of California must act with urgency to protect the public and enact legislation addressing police agencies’ use of attack dogs.”
Further, police deployment of attack dogs has resulted in severe injuries and deaths, according to an expert medical opinion published by a team of clinicians with Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today. In “Unleashed Brutality: An Expert Medical Opinion on the Health Harms from California Police Attack Dogs,” a multidisciplinary team of clinicians conducted a scientific literature review and analyzed data from 30 cases in California involving police canine bites in recent years. The 30 cases were obtained by the ACLU of Southern California through the California Public Records Act and through litigation filed on behalf of individuals injured by California police canines, which the organization then shared with PHR for independent medical review.
“Californians have suffered extreme physical and psychological harms from the unleashed brutality of police attack dogs,” said Altaf Saadi, MD, neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, Assistant Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, and PHR medical expert who co-authored the expert opinion. “The bites from police attack dogs – which are disproportionately weaponized against Black Californians – cause deep and lasting wounds that often result in long-term pain and permanent disability, including nerve injury, loss of function of arms and legs, disfigurement, and enduring psychological trauma.”
The ACLU report details personal testimony from Californians who have had loved ones killed or injured by police attack dogs and collects stories of dogs attacking people everywhere from Anaheim to Santa Clara, Hesperia to Grover Beach. It was prepared using a review of police reports obtained via public records requests, legal filings, and publicly reported incidents across California, and includes the following statistics:
- In the City of Richmond, police attack dogs were involved in 60% of use of force cases which resulted in great bodily injury or death over a five-year period.
- In Fairfield, in the same time period, over 61% of people bitten by police attack dogs were Black, in a city whose population is 16% Black.
- Similarly, in Bakersfield, in 2020, 89% of police dog attacks resulting in severe injuries were against a Black or Latine individual, though Black and Latine residents collectively make up 59% of the city’s population.
The report concludes that evidence demonstrates that eliminating or seriously constraining police agencies’ ability to deploy attack dogs would not negatively impact public safety outcomes. Existing state law and police policies fail to prevent police attack dogs from unnecessarily inflicting violence against the public or provide accountability when individuals are harmed by their indiscriminate and unnecessary use. Assembly Bill 742 (Jackson), currently in the California legislature, would create statewide standards restricting the use of police canines.
ACLU California Action advocates for the defense and advancement of civil liberties and civil rights in the State Capitol on behalf of ACLU’s three California Affiliates: ACLU of Northern California, ACLU of Southern California, and ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. We work to secure greater equality, equity, justice, and freedom for all Californians, working in coalition with communities that have been impacted by the denial of justice. Our policy priorities are aimed at dismantling systems rooted in oppression and discrimination through an integrated advocacy approach that employs rigorous policy analysis, lobbying, communications, coalition-building, and grassroots organizing. ACLU California Action is a 501(c)(4) organization federated with ACLU’s three California affiliates for the purpose of statewide advocacy.