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Monday, March 23, 2015

Biased Police Dogs

One surprising revelation of the Justice Department's report on Ferguson's police department was that:

 "[C]anine officers use dogs out of proportion to the threat posed by the people they encounter, leaving serious puncture wounds to nonviolent offenders, some of them children. Furthermore, in every canine bite incident for which racial information is available, the subject was African American."

The obvious takeaway from this startling information is the one drawn by the Justice Department, that "race may play an impermissible role in officers’ decisions to deploy canines." But a short and interesting article  in the New Yorker suggests another, equally upsetting, reason that these dogs may have attacked only African American suspects: they are affected by "the hidden racial prejudices of the police officers who deploy them."  It is hard to draw this conclusion from the Ferguson case alone but the article's author cites several other examples of how a trainer's biases can impact their canine charges.

 The author also questions the received wisdom that dogs are particularly useful aids to law enforcement more generally.  This is not an area I have looked into but am now curious about the police's use of dogs, when it is appropriate, and whether the resources spent on their training and care is the best way to spend limited police budgets.  

Posted by Kate Levine on March 23, 2015 at 09:29 AM in Blogging, Criminal Law | Permalink


It was. Although I meant to say the story was about people's perceptions and their effect on animals. In this case, rats.

Posted by: Matthew Bruckner | Mar 23, 2015 10:46:27 AM

Thanks, Matthew. That sounds so interesting!

Posted by: Kate Levine | Mar 23, 2015 10:28:34 AM

In the recent "Invisibilia" podcast (http://www.npr.org/podcasts/510307/invisibilia) on NPR, they discussed how people's perceptions can have a demonstrable impact on other people. The episode was from January 22, 2015
and was called "How to Become Batman." It was really terrific (IMO).

And it is related to the point made by Kate Levine in the OP.

Posted by: Matthew Bruckner | Mar 23, 2015 10:24:03 AM

Seems to show more truth to the dissents in Illinois v. Caballes -- use of dogs should be deemed a search/seizure situation & reasonableness rules should be involved.

Posted by: Joe | Mar 23, 2015 10:09:35 AM

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