The Los Angeles Police Department has long been plagued with accusations of racism, but generally these charges are pointed toward the officers. Now, however, some worry that the Los Angeles Sheriff Department Canine Special Detail is comprised of prejudiced pups, as well. In the first half of 2013, 100% of police dog bite victims in the city were either African American or Latino, writes The Independent.
While we can joke that “even the police dogs are racist,” the real blame falls on the Sheriff Department itself. The dogs are thoroughly trained and instructed when to attack civilians, so any discrimination that can be inferred from the bite statistics more accurately reflect the institutionalized racism of the LASD. The sheriffs determine which neighborhoods they bring their dogs to, as well as which suspects they ultimately unleash these dogs to catch.
It’s not just that the police dogs are being used against minorities to the exclusion of whites — they’re also being used more often. Since 2004, police canine bites increased by 30% and 33% on Latinos and blacks respectively.
“Crime rates are lower in these areas, but the stark disparity leads us to wonder why canine deployments seem to occur disproportionately in less affluent areas with larger minority populations,”¯ wrote PARC, the Police Assessment Resource Center, who released a study on the rate of police dog bites around the city. PARC noted that the areas with the highest percentage of minority residents like Compton, South LA and City of Industry experienced more police dog attacks than LASD’s 21 other districts combined. Meanwhile, sheriff dogs rarely patrol predominately white neighborhoods.
This discriminatory enforcement seems like business as usual for Los Angeles, which has already been warned by the Justice Department to cease its racial profiling measures. A study showed that blacks in LA are stopped at exceedingly higher rates than whites. Moreover, detained blacks are 127% more likely to be frisked, 76% more likely to be searched and 29% more likely to be arrested than a detained white suspect. LAPD’s Police Chief dismissed the study as a sign of “liv[ing] in an imperfect world”¯ rather than racial profiling
Though not lethal, police dog bites are known to cause excessive bodily harm. The Los Angeles Times reported that police dog pursuits “cause injuries at far higher rates than those associated with batons, tear gas, or even guns.”¯ 68% of such bites require a subsequent hospital visit, whereas batons and Tasers only result in hospitalization about 20% of the time. Because of the force of the bite, police dog attacks can also permanently disfigure those who are attacked.
The LASD Canine Special Detail has also faced criticism as to whether it has the control necessary to deploy these dogs in the first place. Over the years, Los Angeles has handled several lawsuits from suspects who were attacked after surrendering to the police. Additionally, on occasion, the dogs have accidentally attacked the wrong person, resulting in similarly hefty settlements against the city.
Following PARC’s report, the head of LASD’s canine program, Bruce Chase, has vowed to reduce the number of dog bites. It seems some reflection on the demographics of people the dogs are being used against would be warranted, too.
Photo Credit: U.S. Navy