When cops can’t do the brutalization themselves, they send in man’s best friend. Best friend to The Man, that is. K-9 "officers" aren’t just for illegally extending traffic stops. They’re also capable of maiming people for the offense of not being respectful/subdued enough for an officer’s liking.
A recent investigative report by The Marshall Project shows cops are more than willing to use police dogs to inflict pain on arrestees, even when there’s nothing about the situation that demands such a violent response. Just being a suspected criminal is enough to trigger dog handlers, who appear to feel any amount of damage to another human being is justified.
The police called in a K-9 handler and his dog, Niko, to search 3809 Cresta Circle. The dog lunged, found a man and bit down, according to court records. It took almost two minutes for the handler to pull the dog off. And before long, their suspect, a 51-year-old Black man, bled to death. The dog had torn an artery in his groin.
The burglary suspect actually had permission to be in the house. And his only prior criminal activity was passing bad checks years before Alabama police unleashed a dog on him.
That’s only the beginning of the Marshall Project’s thorough report, which shows this "interaction" is far from unusual.
Police dog bites are rarely fatal. But in other ways, the case of Joseph Pettaway is not unusual. These dogs, whose jaws and teeth are strong enough to punch through sheet metal, often produce severe injuries. Police employ them not only in emergencies, but also for low-level, non-violent incidents. The dogs bite thousands of Americans each year, including innocent bystanders, police officers, even their own handlers. And there is little oversight, nationally or in the states, of how police departments use them.
Not every law enforcement agency is this irresponsible about its use of attack animals. Some agencies deploy their dogs rarely during arrests. Others do it with alarming frequency. The investigation shows there’s nothing harmless about deploying K-9s. They are just another weapon in cops’ arsenals, capable of doing immense amounts of damage.
Police dog bites can be more like shark attacks than nips from a family pet, according to experts and medical researchers. A dog chewed on an Indiana man’s neck for 30 seconds, puncturing his trachea and slicing his carotid artery. A dog ripped off an Arizona man’s face. A police dog in California took off a man’s testicle. Dog bites cause more hospital visits than any other use of force by police, according to a 2008 academic analysis of 30 departments.
In addition, many of those bitten were suspected of non-violent crimes and were unarmed. Court records show some of those targeted by K-9 attacks were suspected of nearly nothing at all. Dogs were unleashed by cops in response to license plate issues, public urination, and against someone looking for a lost cat.
A recent internal investigation of the Salt Lake City (UT) police department came to some of the same conclusions.
After bodycam footage showed a Salt Lake City police officer ordering his dog to bite a Black man on his knees with his hands in the air, department officials launched a review of times when police dogs had been used during an arrest.
What they found, according to Mayor Erin Mendenhall, was a “pattern of abuse of power.”
It is indeed a pattern. The internal review looked at the 27 times police dogs had bitten residents since 2018. Eighteen of those -- 66% percent -- were forwarded to the DA’s office for potential criminal charges against the officers.
The investigation prompted by this body camera footage uncovered additional problems. Officers deploying dogs appear to believe it isn’t a use of force worth reporting, despite department policies stating otherwise. No one in the PD was aware of this attack until after the Salt Lake Tribune published the video. The officer didn’t report the use of force. Neither did his superior.
The PD has since changed its policies to mandate reporting of dog bites as use of force. And the officer ordering his pet to bite an unarmed, compliant man has been charged with aggravated assault. But even as the PD tries to clean up its mess, at least one state legislator seems to believe it’s the public’s fault members of the public are being attacked by police dogs. Speaking out against a bill that would codify the department’s K-9 policies, the legislator suggested the streets belong to the police, rather than the public.
[S]tate Sen. Don Ipson (R–St. George) has a simpler solution: If people don’t want to be attacked by police dogs, he said last week, they should "stay home."
Ipson made it clear that he was not keen on the proposed legislation. "I don’t have a lot of sympathy," he told fellow members of the Utah Senate’s Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee. "We don’t want to harm the public. But if they don’t want to get bit, stay home."
There appears to be no reason for Ipson’s idiotic statement other than he’s white, male, and unlikely to be targeted by police violence. He has since apologized for his stupidity. But he’s only swapped out this stupidity for another form of stupidity.
"It didn’t come across the way I meant it, and to the world, I apologize for that, that was wrong," he told local news channel KUTV.
Rephrasing his earlier remarks, the Republican Senator told The Salt Lake Tribune newspaper: "If you don’t want to have a confrontation with a police officer or a K-9 dog… you don’t break the law."
First, it seems like it came across exactly the way he meant in. Ipson said people should stay home if they don’t want to be attacked by cops and their pets. This is called blaming the victim, and supporters of law enforcement do this far more often than other public servants and members of the public.
The replacement statement isn’t much better. According to Ipson, people who don’t want to be mauled by police dogs shouldn’t break the law. Well, explain that to the guy who was in a house with permission but got treated like a dangerous burglar. Or the person whose public urination led to a K-9 attack. Or the person looking for a lost cat, which doesn’t appear to be a violation of any law, no matter how many vague, stupid laws legislators pass.
And this additional clarification shows how much Ipson doesn’t care what happens to people who don’t enjoy the same privileges he’s enjoyed his entire life.
"I’m 73 years old," Ipson said. "I’ve never been threatened by a K-9 dog. If you don’t want to have a confrontation with a police officer or a K-9 dog…you don’t break the law."
A 73-year-old white man recounting his lack of experience with police brutality is indicative of nothing. His ability to avoid being mauled by police dogs provides no guidance to anyone. Those similarly situated (white, upper middle class, male) will have also likely made it dozens of years without being subjected to mistreatment by cops.
But their inexperience should not be taken as an indicator of police restraint and accountability. In fact, it indicates the opposite. Cops will abuse people they believe are powerless far more often than they’ll abuse those they feel can fight back -- either through lawsuits or legislation. Ipson’s statement is like someone claiming tornadoes are harmless because they’ve never had a tornado hit their house. It doesn’t speak to the experiences of others. It only shows how sheltered they are. And it shows how complicit cops are in ensuring certain people remain exempt from their casual brutality.