Minorities on Receiving End of Vast Majority of L.A. County Canine Unit Bites

To be African-American or Latino in Los Angeles County these days is to be a police dog’s potential chew toy, according to a new report by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department’s special counsel office.

For the first six months of this year, all suspects bitten by police dogs during the course of an arrest were African-American or Latino, part of a trend over recent years that has seen a tripling of the ratio of dog bites among suspects arrested in scenarios in which canine units have been used.

This in a sheriff’s department already shrouded in controversy over racial profiling, as the folks at Think Progress point out:

Dog bites are not the only police tactic blacks and Latinos in Los Angeles have to fear. The LASD has racked up a lengthy racial profiling record. The Department of Justice found that the LASD systematically singles out blacks and Latinos for stops, seizures, and excessive force at higher rates than other races.

LASD officers regularly target immigrants without legal authority. A class-action lawsuit against the department charged the LASD was holding thousands of immigrants in jail cells for longer than the legal maximum of 48 hours. Detained immigrants were also not allowed to post bail even after a court allowed it. In 2011, the sheriff’s department illegally detained nearly 20,000 people on immigration holds for an average of three weeks longer than inmates without immigration holds.

Los Angeles’ African American community has also seen excessive violence from the sheriff’s department. Last year, officers shot an 18-year-old African American teen while he was handcuffed, and then later tried to cover up the killing. Around the same time, officers stomped on a young black woman’s genitals before forcing her into the backseat of a police vehicle. The woman later died, leaving behind two young children.

Notably the report found that canine units were used at a significantly higher rate in poor and minority-heavy neighborhoods than in the richer and whiter areas of the county (the jurisdiction does not include the city of Los Angeles itself, but unincorporated areas of the county and smaller cities without their own police departments).

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. …The five LASD stations with the highest number of bites (Century, South LA/Lennox, Compton, Lakewood, and Industry) had more bites, from January 2004 to June 2013, than all of the other 21 agencies or stations combined. Century Station,15 in particular, had 15 percent of the total bites for a total of 78 bites from January 2004 to June 2013. In contrast, the more affluent stations where Whites are the predominant ethnicity (La Crescenta, Altadena, Marina Del Rey, West Hollywood, and Lost Hills/Malibu) comprised about two percent of the total bites for a total of nine bites for the same time period.

The special counsel’s suggested solution? Better data collection and analysis, stronger directives and training on appropriate use of dogs, or a partial moratorium until the department can get a handle on the problem.

But then, the special counsel has urged that before without much success:

We have, in the past, recommended that the LASD focus on the stark disparities in the racial and ethnic mix of persons who are bitten by police dogs. In the first six months of this year, 100 percent of the dog bites were of Blacks and Latinos. While the number of annual bites of Anglos, Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans has remained consistently low from 2004 through 2012, 89 percent of the total bites in the same time period were of Latinos or Blacks. This 89 percent is an increase from a still troublesome 85 percent in the 1990s….

The number of Latinos being bitten by dogs increased 30 percent, from 30 bites in 2004 to 39 bites in 2012. Similarly, from 2004 to 2012, the number of Blacks being bitten by dogs increased 33 percent, from 9 in 2004 to 12 in 2012. This trend of minority populations disproportionately being bitten has held firm in recent years. In 2010, 90 percent of the bites were on Black or Hispanic suspects; in 2011, 89 percent; 2012, 90 percent; and during the first six months of 2013, 100 percent or all of the 17 bites were on Black or Hispanic suspects. Consideration might be given to a partial moratorium on the use of canines in all but the most critical circumstances involving armed suspects as practices are developed to curb the disproportionate impact.

But we all know that saying about how hard it is to teach an old dog new tricks.

—Posted by Scott Martelle.

Scott Martelle
Veteran journalist Scott Martelle has written books on the Ludlow Massacre, the Red Scare clampdown on civil liberties, the history of Detroit and the story of the century-long search for John Paul Jones'…
Scott Martelle

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