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Attacks by Police Dogs Stay Off Radar

Those bitten are nearly all male, disproportionately Black
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 2, 2020 2:10 PM CDT
K9 Attacks Injure Thousands, With Little Police Accountability
A man points at his ankle last month as he discusses his encounter with a police dog in Salt Lake City. An officer has been charged in the case.   (Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP, File)

There's evidence of another way force is used disproportionately, often without accountability, by police departments around the country. About 3,600 people—almost all men—are treated in emergency rooms each year for bites inflicted by police dogs. Statistics for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and Ferguson, Mo., police show nearly every person bitten by their dogs was not white. An investigation by USA Today and several other news organizations found that many people bitten weren't armed, weren't sought in violent crimes, or weren't being looked for by police in the first place. The information examined covered more than 140 cases of serious injury nationwide and included the 20 biggest US cities, though few law enforcement agencies keep standardized data on the attacks. There's no such requirement. In fact, little outside oversight exists.

The dogs often are deployed in nonviolent situations, the investigation found—not just emergencies. And the bites aren't the playful nips that might be expected from a pet, experts say; they're more like shark attacks. The wounds can be severe, and although the attacks aren't often fatal, they can be, from animals with teeth and jaws that can punch through sheet metal. The dogs are "not taught to rip, they're not taught to tear, they're not taught to maim," a trainer said. But it happens. In Arizona, a man's face was ripped off; in San Diego, a woman's scalp was torn; in Alabama, a man bled to death after a bite tore an artery in his groin. A 2008 review found dog bites are responsible for more hospital visits than any other use of force by police. Because of laws and sympathies, victims have trouble winning compensation. Even if their case reaches trial, lawyers say it's difficult to win over jurors who love police dogs, which they call the Lassie effect. Read the results of the probe here. (A K-9 officer has been charged in a Utah attack.)

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