Caught in the Act: Officers on Video
When a California man working outdoors heard a dog crying in distress, he looked around for the source and saw a Vacaville police officer straddling a dog, later identified as Gus, and punching the animal in the face while forcibly holding him down on his back. The witness captured some of the incident on video but was afraid to intervene. The footage went viral, raising public ire and inspiring protests. An investigation by Anchor Therapy Clinic—a trauma-focused mental-health clinic in Sacramento led by a psychotherapist with experience as a military working-dog handler, trainer, and kennel master—revealed that Gus was fearful, engaging in avoidant behavior when cornered or leashed or when a handler attempted to touch him. He also didn’t understand or respond to basic commands or tasks and aggressively protected his food. The handler was removed from the K-9 unit, and the police department announced that it would implement the improvements recommended by the investigators.
In a similar case in Salisbury, North Carolina, a video was leaked to the media showing an officer lifting a K-9, later identified as Zuul, off the ground by the leash, swinging the dog over his shoulder, hauling him like this for several feet, body slamming him against the side of a police vehicle, violently shoving him against and then into the vehicle, and punching him with force. Onlookers who were apparently inside an adjacent vehicle with the camera that filmed the incident can be heard in the footage. One says, “We’re good—no witnesses,” then someone chuckles. Then one asks, “Is your camera on?” and the response is “Uh, no, my power’s off.” Someone then says, “I think mine’s on,” followed by, “Can you go flip my cameras off? Just the front camera.” The video quickly went viral, inspiring a local protest, generating national and international outrage, and prompting an external investigation. Based on the investigation, the handler, Officer James Hampton, was recommended for termination and subsequently resigned. Although the district attorney declined to bring criminal charges against him, the results of the investigation revealed that Hampton’s fellow officers thought that he had “disciplined [Zuul] incorrectly,” that the “discipline was excessive and not necessary,” and that the “discipline efforts went too far.” The president of a canine training facility stated that, in his opinion, “the incident was an overcorrection.”
In Beattyville, Kentucky, a witness filmed a police officer and his K-9, Sara (pictured below), during a traffic stop. While Sara was in a seated position, the handler kneed her in the back of the head (00:12–13 of the video here). He shouted a command for her to go into a “down” position, and once she had obeyed, he dragged her along the pavement by the leash and collar around her neck. According to the witness, the handler forcefully shoved Sara into the patrol vehicle, hit her with his hand once she was inside, and then shut the door against her backside. The witness stated that the other police officer at the scene blocked her from moving and wouldn’t allow her to film the handler’s treatment of Sara after he had dragged her along the ground.
In each case, PETA rushed a letter to the chief of police, condemning the cruelty displayed by the officer against their own K-9 and requesting that the dog be removed from the handler’s care, the handler be removed from the K-9 unit, an investigation be conducted into the incident, and a thorough review be performed of the department’s K-9 policies and procedures in order to prevent such abuse from ever happening again.
Read the main article. In addition, our reporters will continue publishing stories from this investigation in the coming weeks, including the story of a Washington, D.C., woman who went for a walk, then encountered a police dog; an examination of the police department with the worst dog-bite rate among the nation’s 20-largest city agencies; and an examination of police dog use in Alabama and the state’s most dangerous K-9 unit.
Training varies depending on the intended specialty; however, basic patrol training, which most police dogs undergo, includes obedience, agility, tracking, evidence searches, building and open area searches, and scent discrimination. A canines’ training never ends as they are continually sharpening their skills and working with their human partner to be prepared for anything they may face in the field.
From the time they are old enough to focus, usually around 12-months-old, police dogs begin training for their career. Human officers who sign up to have a canine partner undergo special training as well. The intensive training by both partners, canine and human, leads to a strong bond between them.
While some people believe that dogs do not have a place in the public service sector, others believe the opposite.
There are many thoughts on animals in public service, especially when it comes to canine officers. To some, it is not justified to allow any animal to serve the needs of humans; and to others, it is justified to utilize the extraordinary skills of animals in order to do the entire community good.
Often times public service animals do end up living with their former human counterpart or another officer, but sometimes they are euthanized due to the risk of placing highly skilled dogs in the wrong home.