Vancouver resident Melissa Judd shares her thoughts on House Bill 1054, which bans the use of police dogs to apprehend or arrest suspects
Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are those of the author alone and do not reflect the editorial position of ClarkCountyToday.com
Representatives in Olympia have proposed a bill that will limit police officers’ force options in volatile situations and limit their ability to de-escalate situations. Among other things, House Bill 1054 bans the use of police dogs to apprehend or arrest suspects, taking away one of the best less lethal force options officers have. Police K9s are highly trained dogs and are the only weapon that can be recalled after being deployed. Both the dog and its specific handler are required to go through at least 400 hours of training before being certified for patrol work.
After achieving initial certification, each K9 team is required to train an additional 16 hours per month and recertify with the state at least every two years for as long as they are in service. Most teams train more than the required amount and complete additional certification with the Washington State Police Canine Association. One K9 handler with the Spokane Police Department trained for 128 hours in January 2021.
In addition to obedience work, on and off leash, certification includes recalls (during which the dog is sent towards the “suspect” but is recalled after the suspect surrenders and before the dog bites them). The ability to recall K9s after deployment gives suspects more opportunity to peacefully surrender. These dogs are a great de-escalation tool. The majority of suspects surrender when faced with the possibility of being bitten by a K9. In Spokane last year, only 3 percent of the 395 suspects captured by SPD K9 teams were bitten. If suspects decide not to surrender and are bitten, they typically receive only minor to moderate injuries and sometimes no injuries at all. The severity of the injury depends on the amount the suspect struggles against the dog and continues to resist arrest while the dog is biting them. K9s are trained to bite in one spot and hold that spot until they are told to release, thereby typically reducing injuries to bruises, scrapes, or puncture wounds.
Police K9s are credited with having saved the lives of many people, both officers and civilians. As recently as Jan. 26, K9 Haywire with Spokane PD was used to successfully de-escalate a potentially deadly situation. K9 Haywire’s handler gave commands to an armed suspect to surrender. The suspect discarded his loaded firearm and surrendered peacefully. He explained that the reason he gave up was so he would not get bitten by the K9. Without K9 Haywire’s presence, the suspect or the K9 handler likely would have been shot when the suspect drew the handgun. Even President Obama was protected by apprehension K9s in 2014 when a man jumped the White House fence. It took two K9s to subdue the man. If the K9s had not been there, the suspect likely would have been shot and killed to protect the president. Without these de-escalation and negotiation tools, more suspects and officers will be injured or killed.
These dogs are not the dogs of the 1960s and ‘70s. The police K9 industry has gone through much reform since then. Departments specifically select social dogs who can participate in public outreach events to help improve community-police relations. If departments find that a dog is too aggressive or head-strong in training, they send the dog back to the vendor.
Please contact your representatives and ask them to vote “no” on SHB 1054.